Greetings! Today I want to share the first part of a story with you about a stupendous man whose faith led him to marvelous scientific accomplishments that helped many people. Perhaps you’ve heard of him—he’s sometimes referred to as “The Peanut Man.” But long before he earned that title, he was known as “Carver’s George.” You see, George Washington Carver, the famous scientist who used chemistry and agriculture (the study of farming) to improve the lives and work of many poor Southern farmers, began life as a slave.
George was born, according to his own record, “in Diamond Grove, Missouri, about the close of the great Civil War, in a little one-roomed log shanty, on the home of Mr. Moses Carver…the owner of my mother….” While he was still just a baby, men attacked the Carver farm and captured George, his mother Mary, and his sister in order to sell them in another state. All of Moses Carver’s efforts only recovered baby George. Without any parents to care for him, Moses and Susan Carver raised George themselves, even after the government legally freed all slaves in 1865.
Since George’s poor health wouldn’t allow him to do much physical work, Susan taught him other skills in addition to reading and writing, like cooking, sewing, gardening, and creating home remedies from herbs. George loved learning and found plants especially fascinating. He studied the plants around him and experimented with ways to help them grow better. He became so good at it that neighboring farmers nicknamed him “the plant doctor.”
But George knew there was more to learn beyond the Carver farm. Sometime around age eleven or twelve, George went to live with an African American couple named Andrew and Mariah Watkins so he could study at a one-room school for African Americans. Mariah supplemented his school studies with further training in using herbs to help heal people. George soon learned all he could there and spent the next years of his life moving from town-to-town, working a variety of jobs (including cooking, housework, laundry, and farming) as he tried different schools. He never lost his interest in nature and developed an ability to draw the plants and animals he studied. Finally, in 1880, he completed his high school education in Minneapolis, Kansas.
Even after going to all that effort just to graduate high school, George was still determined to learn more. At first, Kansas’s Highland College accepted his application to enroll in their school. Then, exasperatingly and unfairly, once George arrived and college officials saw the color of his skin, they turned him away. George returned to studying and experimenting on his own. Finally, some white friends, the Milhollands, pushed George to give college another try, and in 1890, Simpson College welcomed him. George started his college career focused on the arts until one of his professors, Etta Budd, persuaded him to pursue botany at Iowa State Agricultural School. George graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1894, something no other African American had achieved before him. At his professors’ request, George continued his education and graduated with his Master of Agriculture Degree in 1896. He was well on his way to living out the words of what became his favorite poem, “Equipment,” by Edgar A. Guest:
Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You've all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say, “I can.”
Read the rest of the poem here! Next week I’ll be sharing about all the marvelous ways that George helped improve the lives of many people by using the hard-earned knowledge he had equipped himself with!
I believe in the four Fs: Faith, Family, Fun, and FIZZ!