Black history month Day 7: American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver.
George Washington Carver was born a slave sometime in the 1860s, his exact date of birth is unknown. His master was Moses Carver, a German immigrant who had purchased George’s parents for $700. When George was only a week old, he, a sister, and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders from Arkansas to be sold in Kentucky. Moses Carver hired someone to retrieve them but he was only able to save baby George and his older brother James, who had been saved from the kidnapping.
After slavery was abolished, Moses and his wife basically adopted George and his brother James and raised them as their own, encouraging George’s intellectual pursuits and teaching him to read and write. Since black children were not allowed to be educated in the local school, George traveled to the school for black children 10 miles south and rented a room in that area to continue his education. He was determined to learn all he could in order to give back to people.
George was originally accepted at Highland College in Kansas, but was turned away once they discovered his race. Undeterred, George homesteaded some land where he started a small conservatory of plants, manually plowed over 16 acres of land, and worked as a ranch hand and other odd jobs. Eventually he received a $300 loan for his education, and begin studying art and piano at Simpson College. When his teacher noticed how skilled he was at painting plants, she urged him to pursue botany and he was accepted to Iowa State Agricultural College as their first black student. Eventually he took it one step further and became Iowa State’s first black faculty member after earning his masters.
Carver focused his efforts on developing alternative crops to cotton, hoping to better the lives and livelihood of poor farmers. He taught people how to grow things like sweet potatoes and peanuts, and came up with many different uses for this produce. He also taught naturally sustainable ways for rejuvenating nutrient depleted soil and getting the most out of your crops. He received numerous honors for his work in environmentalism, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. His success in scientific fields gained praise across racial barriers, with TIME Magazine once calling him “the black Leonardo”. Carver was even publicly admired by President Theodore Roosevelt.