George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver with a student
“When I was young, I said to God, God, tell me the mystery of the universe. But God answered, that knowledge is for me alone. So I said, God, tell me the mystery of the peanut. Then God said, well, George, that’s more nearly your size.” — George Washington Carver
Besides peanut butter, George Washington Carver developed more than 300 products from peanuts and nearly 200 from sweet potatoes.
He only held patents (the legal right to collect money for inventions) for 3 discoveries. He said, “God gave them to me, how can I sell them to someone else?”
He helped found the school of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Nobody is sure exactly when George Washington Carver was born. Some say it was 1861, others say 1864. He lived near Diamond Grove, Missouri when he was a little boy. George, his parents, and his brother Jim were slaves owned by Moses Carver. His father was killed when he was a baby and George and his mother were kidnapped. Moses Carver traded a horse to get George back. He raised George along with his brother Jim and George kept the Carver name, even after the Emancipation Proclamation (the law that said black people shouldn’t be owned as slaves) was signed.
As a child, George was often sick with the croup and whooping cough (sicknesses in the lungs that made people cough a lot and sometimes die). This damaged his vocal chords and left him with a high-pitched voice. He liked to walk in the woods early in the morning, studying the plants. He became a Christian (or became saved) when he was 12 years old. This means he prayed and asked Jesus to come into his heart and to forgive his sins. He once said, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.”
George had to leave his home to go to school because the school in his home town did not allow black students. He traveled around the country and lived with many different families to finish his education. He also saw many scary things, including a lynching. This is what it was called when white people killed black people by hanging them with a rope, just because their skin was darker. After George graduated from college, Booker T. Washington, a black educator and civil rights leader, asked him to start a school for agriculture for black people. George helped found the school of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1896.
“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we only will tune in.” — George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver experimented with many plants such as sweet potatoes, cowpeas (or black-eyed peas), soybeans, alfalfa, and Spanish peanuts to find crops that would rebuild nutrients or chemicals in the soil such as nitrogen. This was important because years of growing cotton had ruined the soil in the Southern states such as Alabama. Poor farmers came from all around to Tuskegee to learn how to rebuild the soil on their farms. George had many offers to work for other people and make more money, but he believed it was more important to help the farmers so he stayed in Tuskegee and he gave most of his money back to the school. He even refused to accept a pay raise from the school. Later, someone else was put in charge of the school and George spent most of his time doing research.
George Washington Carver died of anemia, a sickness caused by not having enough healthy red blood cells, in 1943. He left his life savings of $60,000 to found the George Washington Carver Foundation, to help black people who wanted to study botany, chemistry, and agriculture.
“We get closer to God as we get more intimately and understandingly acquainted with the things He has created. I know of nothing more inspiring than that of making discoveries for one’s self.” — George Washington Carver
For More Information:
Patrick, Diane. Amazing African American History. New York: Stonesong Press, 1998.