Retrospective: George Washington Carver.


George Washington Carver (1864?-1943) mastered chemistry, botany, mycology (study of fungi), music, herbalism, art, and cooking; his life began in slavery about 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri. Finding himself rejected from college due to his race, he tried his hand at homesteading in Kansas. Finally, in 1890 he was accepted as an art major at Simpson College in Iowa, where he was the only African American. Within a year, he transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College (today's Iowa State University) to pursue agriculture. Hence, Carver earned a master's degree at Iowa State Agricultural College and went on to become that university's first Black faculty member. His peanut work, beginning in about 1903, was aimed at freeing African American farmers and the South from the tyranny of cotton production. With innovative farming methods, Carver convinced Southern farmers to grow such soil-enriching crops as soybeans and peanuts, in addition to cotton. At the heart of his vision for an economically rejuvenated South was his teaching that nature produced no waste.

After receiving his education at Iowa Agricultural College (Iowa State University), Carver gained an international reputation during his career at Tuskegee University. His research resulted in the creation of 325 products from peanuts, more than 100 products from sweet potatoes, and hundreds more from a dozen other plants native to the South.

Looking to attract the best and brightest African-American professionals to Tuskegee, Booker T. Washington (a man who rose from slavery to a position of power and influence; a realist and a man of action, he became one of the most important African-American leaders of his time; he was committed to improving the lives of African-Americans after the Civil War; he advocated economic independence through self-help, hard work, and a practical education; hence, his drive and vision built Tuskegee into a major African-American presence and place of learning) hired the young teaching assistant, George W. Carver, in 1896. The two men shared the belief that a practical education would make African Americans self-sufficient. In a letter to Washington, Carver said "it has always been the one ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of my people possible and to this end I have been preparing myself for these many years, feeling as I do that this line of education is the key." Carver believed that Tuskegee Institute was the place that...

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