Sunday, February 12, 2012

Black History Month: Carver, Dr. George Washington

Carver, Dr. George Washington  
b. Diamond, Missouri, 1861 
d. Alabama, 1943

Legendary educator, scientest, inventor, agriculturalist, humanitarian and widely regarded as one of America's all time greatest men.

Born the slave of Moses Carver, Diamond, Missouri, in 1861, the youngster could hardly have dreamed what an impression he was to make upon the world. A band of pro-slavery men carried off both mother and son to Arkansas, but Carver hired a "bushwhacker" who found and returned George, more dead than alive.

Carver was a frail and sickly child. He yearned for an education, but there were no schools for blacks in that area. When his curiosity about plants and his zeal for an education became untenable, Carver started out on his own. His life reads like an odyssey. Picking up an elementary education wherever he could, Carver finally, by working as a domestic for a Kansas family, secured a high school education.

After many disappointments, Carver enrolled in Simpson College in Iowa, having been refused entry elsewhere because of his color. Although interested in art he finally attended Ames College, now Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology in 1891. Here he met young Henry Wallace later the Secretary of Agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt, with whom he became a life-long friend.
After Carver earned his master's degree in science in 1898, Booker T. Washington invited him to come to Tuskegee Institute. Loath as he was to leave Ames he accepted. There in a cramped "laboratory", lacking the essential tools for research he made his phenomenal discoveries which were to revolutionize Southern agriculture and to prove of lasting benefit to the world. Washington appointed him Head of the Agricultural Department as well as Director and Consultant Chemist of the experimental station.

Carver's contributions were many. He developed new and more resistant strains of cotton, thus increasing the South's cotton yield. Rags, paper and other trash he converted into fertilizer. To revitalize worn out soil he persuaded farmers to raise peas, soybeans and cow peas. Healso developed hundreds of products from sweet potatoes and peanuts.
Carver became world famous but so humble was he that he rejected the offers which came to him to leave Tuskegee. Not only Henry A. Wallace, but Presidents Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, scientists like Thomas Edison, and inventors like Henry Ford became his admirers and friends. In 1931, Joseph Stalin invited him to Russia to overlook the cotton plantations of the Soviet Union. Carver sent some of his ablest students, but he felt obligated to fulfill his commitment to Washington, though the latter was long since deceased.

Too frugal to spend his meager earnings, at his death in 1943, he left his savings of $33,000 to the Carver Laboratory at Tuskegee. In honor of his many contributions the United States, in 1952 built a monument near Diamond, the Old Carver home and made it a national memorial.

There are Carver schools all over the country. George Washington Carver, however, is the only black American to whom a national monument has ever been erected. Along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Carver was elected to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans at New York University in 1973.

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