Life & Times of George Washington Carver
Updated: Dec 23, 2019
This month we recognize George Washington Carver for the important role he contributed to the world. George was born as a slave during the Civil War in the mid eighteen hundreds.
His father was a slave for the next farm down the road and was killed in a log hauling accident a few weeks after his birth. Soon after the Civil War, infant George along with his mother and sister would be kidnapped.
The thieves had left baby George lying on the ground with whooping cough and he never saw his mother and sister again. The whooping cough had caused permanent damage to his vocal chords and kept him from walking until he was three years old.
George was raised by ‘Uncle” Moses and “Aunt” Sue Carver, a German immigrant couple who had no children of their own. As a child George was in poor health. He would stay close to the home and help with chores such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, and laundry. These would be the very skills he would use later on in life to support himself. He would entertain himself as a young child by playing in the woods just as many children do today.
George would later on go to college in Neosho, Missouri and paid his own tuition by doing odd jobs of those skills he learned earlier in life. He also traveled from Missouri to Kansas and then to Iowa, supporting himself the same way.
He studied at Simpson College and gained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Iowa State Agricultural Institute. He would then be hired there as a teacher. He taught there many years until he received an offer from Booker T. Washington.
In the Spring of 1896, Booker T. Washington invited George Washington Carver to teach in Alabama: The offer read:
"Tuskegee Institute seeks to provide education -- a means for survival to those who attend.
Our students are poor, often starving. They travel miles of torn roads, across years of poverty.
We teach them to read and write, but words cannot fill stomachs. They need to learn how to plant and harvest crops ...
I cannot offer you money, position or fame. The first two you have. The last, from the place you now occupy, you will no doubt achieve. These things I now ask you to give up.
I offer you in their place work -- hard, hard work -- the challenge of bringing people from degradation, poverty and waste to full manhood."
On May 16, 1896, George W. Carver responded to Booker T. Washington:
"My dear Sir, I am just in receipt of yours of the 13th institute and hasten to reply.
I am looking forward to a very busy, pleasant and profitable time at your college and shall be glad to cooperate with you in doing all I can through Christ who strengthen me to better the condition of our people.
Some months ago, I read your stirring address delivered at Chicago and I said amen to all you said, furthermore you have the correct solution to the 'race problem' ...
Providence permitting, I will be there in November. God bless you and your work, signed, Geo. W. Carver."
In 1896, George Washington Carver surprised the staff at Iowa State College when he announced that he would be leaving to teach at the Tuskegee Institute. The staff showed their appreciation by giving him a microscope as a going away present. He would use that microscope throughout his amazing career.
He assembled an Agricultural Department at Tuskegee and visited nearby farmers, teaching them farming techniques such as crop rotation. The farmers were also taught that by planting peanuts the soil would become replenished with nitrogen and their crops would do much better.
Soon they would have more peanuts than they knew what to do with. You see back then peanuts were used mainly for animal feed. So, George would search for more ways to use the peanut.
He would eventually revolutionize the southern economy by discovering and popularizing the hundreds of different uses for the peanut. He would be offered jobs by Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Ghandi, and Stalin for all that he was able to do in the business world. He was a very spiritual man and gave God all the credit for his success. In 1928, Dr. Carver stated:
"Human need is really a great spiritual vacuum which God seeks to fill ...
With one hand in the hand of a fellow man in need and the other in the hand of Christ, He could get across the vacuum ... Then the passage, 'I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me,' came to have real meaning."
He once told a story at the Young Men’s Christian Association in the summer of 1920 in Blue Ridge, North Carolina about his talk with God.
It went like this:
"Years ago, I went into my laboratory and said, 'Dear Mr. Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?'
The Great Creator answered, 'You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask for something more your size, little man.'
Then I asked, 'Please, Mr. Creator, tell me what man was made for.'
Again, the Great Creator replied, 'You are still asking too much. Cut down on the extent and improve the intent.'
So, then I asked, 'Please, Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?'
'That's better, but even then, it's infinite. What do you want to know about the peanut?'
'Mr. Creator, can I make milk out of the peanut?'
'What kind of milk do you want? Good Jersey milk or just plain boarding house milk?'
'Good Jersey milk.'
And then the Great Creator taught me to take the peanut apart and put it together again. And out of the process have come forth all these products!"
Among the numerous products displayed was a bottle of good Jersey milk. Three and-a-half ounces of peanuts produced one pint of rich milk or one quart of raw "skim" milk, called boarding house "blue john" milk.
Though George Washington Carver came from a disadvantaged background that was much more difficult than people of today, he never allowed self-pity or bitterness to bring him to a hateful victim-hood mentality. He used his strong faith and hard work to do many wonderful things for mankind before his death on January 5, 1943. He is buried next to Booker T. Washington on the grounds of Tuskegee University in Alabama.
To learn more about George Washington Carver you can listen to the podcast at https://yopistudio.podbean.com/e/the-life-of-george-washington-carver/
You can also check out this book about George Washington Carver, written by William J. Federer, George Washington Carver - His Life and Faith in His Own Words