The personality of the brilliant African American chemist and botanist George Washington Carver seems to be reduced nowadays to “the man who worked with peanuts”. This remarkable person has made a revolution in farming, enlightened the Tuskegee Institute, and has reached the fame that was hard to achieve being an African American in the 19-20th century US. For historians and human right activists he has served as a living rebuttal of ethnocentric and racist theories. For farmers, he was the savior of Southern agriculture. For religious people, he was an epitome of faith and humility. What is left of this person is “the Peanut Man” image and a monument in Diamond, Missouri, where George Washington Carter was born. Mistakenly believed to have invented peanut butter – which he has not – George Washington Carver is a complex and ambiguous personality, which seems to be somewhat mistreated by history and public recognition.
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George Washington Carver comes from Diamond Grove, Missouri. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but it is estimated to be in the mid-1860s. Carver had never excelled in health, which is why, coming from a slave family, he has never been sent to work in the fields. Instead, the boy did gardening. He also developed a passion for watching Nature in its ways and was very talented with plants (Kremer 3-4). At the age of 12, George Washington Carver stepped out on the platform in Iowa on his geas to get educated. The Simpson College has shown the young man the beauty of art, in which he also proved to be gifted. Nevertheless, having set and reset his priorities, Carter chose the path of agriculture and went to the Iowa State University in the beginning of 1890s. He turned out to be the first African American youth to ever make an attempt to enter the Iowa State. Also, he was the first ever African American to work at an educational institution. He was invited to teach at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, in 1886. Working as a professor, George Washington Carver got the chance to begin his research (Hersey 14-16).
Having arrived at Tuskegee, however, George Washington Carver had to face the shortage of funds, which forced him to personally construct the laboratory and equipment he needed. With the help of his students, Carver did it literally out of trash: they made things out of garbage they encountered. We are fully aware of the concept of recycling, but at the end of the 19th century, these trash raids were ahead of the time. Nevertheless, the lab was built – and the results of the research have brought George Washington Carver fame and recognition, at least back then. He has conducted a phenomenal research featuring sweet potatoes, which could be used for producing wood fillers, sweets, flours, and more (Hersey 135-137). In 1916, his well-known research bulletin “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption” was brought out (Hersey 258). The bulletin proved very helpful for farmers who had to face the mass destructions of cotton caused by the swarms of boll weevil in Alabama. Peanuts were cheap and multifunctional and have quickly become popular. There was the peanut oil and peanut plants for cattle, and multiple ways of cooking with peanuts. Apart from food, George Washington Carver discovered 300 ways of using peanuts in various products for everyday use, e.g., dyes, plastic, gasoline, shaving cream, hand lotion, etc. (Hersey 259-230). The actual peanut butter was never on the list; the product has been developer long before Carver.
George Washington Carver has never regarded his research as purely scientific. What he wanted was to help people; this stance and his Christianity made him a figure of respect. Another factor of Carver’s popularity was that he did not only talk about helping each other but actually did it. He was very well aware that his research might help people of color dwelling in the South and being choked by poverty. What was still more drastic, the South was rapidly running out of resources. Carver’s main contribution was with regard to low price of peanuts and sweet potatoes, and he devoted his entire life to saving other people’s lives – although he never acknowledged that being a person devoid of vanity. George Washington Carter has experienced much difficulty in his way due to ethnocentric and racist inclinations of the society he lived in. However, he made frequent travels during which he taught agriculture to anyone who would listen. On his travels, he had to use the “colored” train carriages and hotels – but he never stopped (Kremer 47-50).
After his death in 1943, George Washington Carver’s fortune, in which he had shown very little personal interest, was donated to Tuskegee Research Institute. Perseverance and faithfulness, as well as his utmost devotion to research for the sake of common good characterizes Carver much better than the common image of “the Peanut Man” that we are so used to, today.
Hersey, Mark D. My Work Is That of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Print.
Kremer, Gary R. George Washington Carver: In His Own Words. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2013. Print.