George Washington Carver - From Slave to Scientist

George Washington Carver was born into slavery around 1861 on the plantation of Moses Carver in Missouri. What can be said about the man who would later become one of the renowned scientists of the twentieth century?

George’s mother, Mary, also had other children, a son and a daughter. During a raid of the Carver’s farm, George, his mother and his sister were captured and sold in Kentucky. His master who was against slavery, later found George and brought him back to his farm where he and his wife Susan raised George and his brother James as their own. Both boys learned to read and write but they each took different paths, James working in the fields while George, a sickly child, did household chores and was interested in plants and soils. It was this interest that led him to experimenting with fungicides, natural pesticides and soil conditions to which he acquired the name “plant doctor” as he helped farmers improve the crops on their land.

His circle of friends included Henry Ford, Mohandas K. Gandhi, U.S Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and notable African American educator Booker T. Washington with whom he worked with at Tuskegee College. However, for Carver it was never about money or fame. His purpose was to encourage racial harmony and to help poor farmers of the South to improve soils and maximize crop production at little cost. To this end, he refused a $100,000 a year job from Thomas A. Edison, and even refused an offer from Joseph Stalin to manage cotton plantations in southern Russia.

Instead, Carver developed a crop rotation system where he used the peanut and soybean plant along with sweet potato plant to replenish the soil of the nutrients that were depleted from the cotton plantations. Although Carver thought his work with peanuts was not the best of his specialties his work with peanuts got him the title “Peanut Man." This was after his appearance before Congress’s House Ways and Means Committee in 1921.

Carver died on January 5, 1943, as a result of a fall down the stairs at his home at the Tuskegee Institute. A lot can be said about the brilliance of George Washington Carver — formerly enslaved, agriculturist, botanist, conservationist, yet a simple man.

On February 1st, Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District launched the George Washington Carver Project. The program targets students from elementary through high schools in Cuyahoga county where they will not only be educated about the environment, but they will learn of the nutritional value of the crops while being able to reap them at the end of the growing season.

For more information about the program, please contact Colleen Berg 216/524-6580, ext. 1014

Blog Author: Colleen Berg, Education Program Specialist

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