A young man started life as a slave and grew up in a time when many people were against him, just because of the color of his skin. But he never let what these people said, thought, or did stop him from trying to reach his goals. He grew up wanting to learn as much as he could in order to better himself. When he finally reached his schooling goals, he chose to help teach others so they could reach their potential, too. Along the way he invented many things that help all of us. How he reached his goals and what he accomplished along the way are important lessons for students and people today.
George Washington Carver was born into slavery sometime in 1864; no one knows the exact date because records on slaves were not kept. He was born on a farm near Diamond, Missouri. His mother was a slave named Mary. Moses and Susan Carver owned her. The Carvers did not believe in slavery, but they needed help on their farm. Mr. Moses bought Mary to help Susan with the chores and to keep her company. Susan treated Mary like a sister. Shortly after George was born the slaves were freed, but some people did not like this. One night the local Ku Klux Klan kidnapped George and his mother. The Ku Klux Klan was a group made up of white people who did not like blacks and other minorities and also did not like Jews or Catholics. They would use fear and violence against these people they didnít like, to keep them afraid of getting ahead and to even drive them to leave a town. Moses Carver sent riders out to find George and his mother but only George was found and his mother was never seen again.
Moses and Susan Carver raised George as if he were their own child. They taught him to read and write. George wanted to go to school with the other children, but could not because the school close to his house did not allow black children to attend. When George was eleven years old, he moved to Neosho, Missouri to attend a school for black children called Lincoln School. The Carvers were sad to see him go, but a nice lady by the name of Mariah Watkins took him in. Soon George learned all he could at Lincoln and decided to find a better school.
There was a family in town moving to Kansas and they agreed to take George with them. George was about 16 when he arrived in Fort Scott, Kansas. He found a family that needed a cook and went to work for them. When he saved up enough money he went to school. He bought his books and supplies with his own money. George attended many schools in Kansas. He was always looking for a better school to learn from. While still in Kansas, George moved to Olathe. Christopher and Lucy Seymour took him in. Lucy was a laundress, and taught George to do laundry.
When the Seymours moved to Minneapolis, Kansas, George went with them. When they arrived in Minneapolis, George decided to strike out on his own and opened up his own laundry business. George took examinations in order to attend Highland College and then waited for the results. One day the test results came at last. Not only were his grades good enough, he had also won a scholarship. He went into the college admission office and introduced himself. The dean looked at him, "But we donít take Negroes here," he said. George became truly a wanderer now.
In Minneapolis, there was another George Carver in town and they were always getting each otherís mail. That is when George decided to add a "W" to his name to solve the problem. People were always asking him what the "W" stood for? He decided it was for Washington.
On September 9,1890 George was accepted into Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Carver showed promise as a painter, but decided to pursue a career in agriculture, which is the science of farming and raising useful plants (crops) and animals (cows, chickens, pigs, etc). In 1891, he transferred to Iowa State Agriculture College (now Iowa State University) in Ames. Carver received a bachelorís degree in agriculture in 1894 and a masterís degree in 1896.
On April 1, 1896, Carver was asked to teach at Tuskegee Institute. Tuskegee Institute is a school in Alabama, that was originally opened to educate black students, since most colleges at that time did not allow blacks to attend. He was asked to teach black students to be teachers, farmers, and technicians. Carver decided to take the job and leave Iowa State, where he was presently teaching.
When Carver arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama, he knew he had much to teach the students. One of the first things he noticed when he arrived was the cotton fields. Nothing but cotton grew in most of the farmersí fields. The soil conditions were very poor because growing the same crop year after year took all the minerals that help plants grow out of the soil. The first thing he taught the students was about fertilizer. He taught them that a dump made from food scraps, called a compost pile, was a great fertilizer for their soil. They spread this fertilizer on their soil to make it rich. When it was time to plant, they did not plant cotton every single year. They planted cowpeas one year and the next crop season they planted sweet potatoes. Then the next crop would be peanuts. This way of planting was called crop rotation and would help make the soil better for planting more cotton in the future.
When the sweet potatoes and cowpeas were harvested, Carver showed the local families and students many uses for them. Most of these crops were either eaten or used in various ways. Carver did not realize how many peanuts would be harvested. Once the farmers had stored all they needed for their families and friends, there were still peanuts piled everywhere. Carver worried about what could be done with all of those peanuts. It was an October morning in 1915 when Carver decided to lock himself in his lab and see what he could make with peanuts. He ground them, he heated them, and he pressed them. He discovered that peanuts were packed full of protein and that they had more carbohydrate value than sweet potatoes and more vitamins than beef liver. He discovered that the peanut also produced a fluid that looked like milk. This meant that the peanut could be broken down for use in margarine, cooking oil, rubbing oil, even cosmetics.
Soon after he started his experiments, Carver invited local businessmen to a luncheon. The food served at the luncheon was made from peanuts. The menu consisted of bread, soup, salad, baked chicken loaf, creamed vegetables, and ice cream and cookies for dessert. After everyone had eaten and said how good it was, Carver told them that the food had been prepared from peanuts, except the salad. From this a new industry grew in the South, which meant that businessmen began to grow and make stuff from peanuts.
United Peanut Association of America
In 1919, the United Peanut Association of America was founded and Carver was invited to speak at their first annual meeting. Some of the members did not think much of having a black man as a guest speaker, but their chief officer insisted. When Carver arrived at the Exchange Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama, where the meeting was, he had to go through a back door because colored men were not allowed to enter the front. When he began his speech many in the room were not listening. They did not want to hear what a black man had to say. Carver continued his speech while at the same time setting up examples of his products made from peanuts, making jokes as he worked. One by one he held up 31 bottles of products. The men became more interested as he showed them milk drinks, cheese, ice cream, pickles, shoe polish, stains and dyes, and linoleum, all made with elements such as oils, grounds, and milk, of the peanut. He had won his way into the hearts of the Association men.
For several years, the Peanut Association had been asking Congress to put an import tax on peanuts brought into the United States from other countries. This tax would protect the American peanut industry because it would force the price of the foreign peanuts to be higher than the price of peanuts grown in the United States. In 1921, Professor Carver was asked to speak for the Association in Congress. At first Congress was only going to give him 10 minutes to speak on peanuts and the tax. When George began showing the congressmen all the uses and products he had made from peanuts, they gladly gave him as much time as he wanted to speak. In the end, the congressmen gave him a standing ovation and asked him to come back again and bring more of his products, too. They ended up voting for the import duty tax on peanuts because the congressmen were so fascinated by the sight of so many products made from peanuts.
The newspapers all over the country carried the story, helping to make Carver famous and getting him invitations to speak at many different places. He also received offers to work with famous inventors like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Professor Carver and Henry Ford became great friends, but he turned down the job offers and accepted the speaking invitations when he could.
Professor Carver was honored for his work in science and with people. He received honorary doctorate degrees from the college at Ames and the University of Rochester in New York. He received the NAACPís Springarn Medal for his contributions to science and for his contribution to better understanding between the black and white races. Tuskegee Institute established the Carver Museum to exhibit his work and inventions.
He continued to teach the students at Tuskegee and the farmers and their families in the area. Professor Carver even donated his lifeís savings to the Carver Foundation at Tuskegee to give scholarships to needy students so they might have an opportunity to learn. By the time he died in 1943, he had discovered over 300 uses for the peanut.
The lessons we can learn from George Washington Carver are that you should never give up on something youíve worked hard for and never allow someone to put you down. Keep trying!
George Washington Carver Timeline
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