George Washington Carver was born in Diamond, Missouri at about 1865 as a slave child on Moses and Susans farm. Born and raised by his mother Mary, George was always having a whooping cough. One cold night, night raiders or slave robbers, came and took Mary and George from their home. The Carvers hired their neighbor, John Bentley, to go and find Mary and George. When John returned he had only brought back George and said that his mother could not be found. This was the beginning of George Washington Carvers life.
Since George was a very sick child and always having a whooping cough, he was given the job of working around the house and his favorite job, working in the garden. When George was not tending the garden or doing house chores he was always roaming the nearby woods and streams. He explored anything unusual such as reptile and insects. George kept his own frog collection and geological finds in a place where nobody could find as he would watch them progress. He had his own nursery in the woods and learned how to turn sick plants to healthy plants. This helped him be friendly with his neighbors and gained him the name “plant doctor.”
George had his own playmates to play childhood games with. Though his parents and playmates were white, he developed a strong friendship with most everybody and continued contact with them even after he left his hometown. The nighttime was about the same as everybodys, except George and his brother went out to explore while the elders were asleep. During the night he would observe plants and also have fun riding sheep until punished by his parents. George learned very quickly. He mastered everything that was taught to him. This life style helped him become aware of his special talents before the difference of his skin color.
Having white friends and white parents, George was excepted by anybody he came into contact with. He had a strong religious faith. There was no official religion for him, but he attended a little Locust Grove Church. While attending this church, he received religious practicing from a large variety of Methodist, Baptist, Campbellite, and Presbyterian circuit preachers. This gave George an unorthodox and nondenominational faith that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Part of that faith was a deep belief in revelation being given to him by “the creator.”
The gaining of more knowledge made George more aware of racial prejudice. He was in need for more knowledge because he knew everything the Carvers old blue-back speller could offer. He then enrolled in a public school during the week that met at the church he attended. Thanks to the constitution of 1865 made it mandatory for blacks to get an education under certain circumstances. Since Georges county did not meat the requirements, he had to attend a white school. Whites became angry and soon the church that he went to on Sundays, he was forbidden on weekdays. This rejection taught him about racial prejudice, but also frustrated him with his attempt to get a better education. He was later recalled saying:
“I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life-but there was no one to tell me. I do not know how I learned to read and write, but I did in some way, thanks to the Carvers. My only book was an old Websters Elementary Spelling Book. I know it almost by heart. I sough the answers to my questions from the spelling book, but all in vain.”(George Washington Carver Scientist & Symbol, Linda O. McMurry).
A young educated man named Steven Slane was Georges private tutor. At the age of 12, he moved to Neosho to get a better education.
In Neosho, George moved into a house with Mariah and Andrew Watkins in exchange in helping with the chores. He was more that willing to work hard for a great education. As he stepped through the door of a one room school house to meet his teacher Stephan Frost, it was then that he finally met someone with more knowledge than he. This began to fall apart because he learned so well and fast, he had to look else where. He moved to Fort Scott and lived with Felix Payne while going to school.
While in Fort Scott, an unfortunate incident occurred of a black man crime against a white girl. Racial prejudice soon got horrible and George was forced to escape from town fast. After some time, he continued his education in Minneapolis, Kansas where he went to a mostly white high school. He made many friends that encouraged him in his long quest for knowledge. In addition to nurturing plants, he showed interest in painting and music. After this he tried for admission to Highland College and made it but when he showed up for registration, he was refused.
A couple of years passed, George was attending Simpson College in Indianola, Indiana. Since there were not any science courses there he enrolled in painting classes. Flowers and plants were the main subjects of his paintings he knew that he still was interested in agriculture. He then decided to transfer to Iowa State because there was excellent courses for George to study his favorite subject, agriculture. Though many did not except him, even racial slurs did not force him to move away from this college. George soon became very active in clubs and various activities that made his presence more enjoyable. He began to receive offers from different agricultural institutes and made his final decision to go to Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama.
At Tuskegee, George learned to do many things such as, building carriages and making shoes. The one thing that inspired him was agriculture. He soon had the responsibilities to administer the agriculture department, direct the agriculture experiment station, teach full schedule of classes, assume responsibility for Tuskegees agricultural extension efforts in the rural South, and manage the institutes two farms. Over the next 20 years, Georges knowledge of the agricultural world became better than ever. He developed various of ways to bring nutrients back to the soil. Crop rotation, organic fertilizers, and crops such as velvet beans, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, alfalfa, and soybeans were some of them.
Years and years passed along with troubles and achievements. A few bad times had made George threaten to quit his job at Tuskegee. Beside these troubles, the United States government had became interested in his work. He was asked to develop new ways of supplying food for the troops during World War I. Though the war had ended too soon for Georges help, they still did not ignore him. He was approached by an inventor by the name of Thomas Edison with a great job opportunity. He turned down the off because the South had better agricultural experiments for him.
Still at Tuskegee, where George was happy, he had invented many uses with peanuts. He had developed a process for making “peanut milk.” Peanut milk had great nutritional value and could be used in cooking and baking. Over the years he invented many useful ways to use peanuts. Many synthetic products were also developed by George such as the ones listed below.
Adhesives Axle GreaseBleach ButtermilkCheese Chili SauceCream CreosoteDyesFlour Fuel BriquettesInkInstant Coffee Insulating BoardLinoleumMayonnaiseMealMeat Tenderizer Metal PolishMilk FlakesMucilagePaperRubbing OilsSalveSoil ConditionerShampooShoe PolishShaving CreamSugarSynthetic MarbleSynthetic RubberTalcum PowderVanishing CreamWood StainsWood FillerWorcestershire Sauce
Source: Hattie Carwell. Blacks in Science: Astrophysicist to Zoologist
(Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition Press), 1977.
It is no doubt that George Washington Carver had a major impact on our lives. From everything he accomplished and everything he developed the world may not have been that same, thanks to him. George died on January 5th, 1943 at 7:30 P.M. He was laid to rest near the grave of Booker T. Washington. Before his death, he created the George Washington Carver Foundation in which Henry Ford was the trustee. In Tuskegee, Alabama is where the George Washington Carver Museum is located.