George Washington Carver
Jan 31, 2023
George Washington Carver is known as the father of the peanut industry. He brought a new understanding of sustainable agriculture to the Southern U.S. to help farmers support their families and have a better life. In this episode, we go beyond the basics and explore Carver as a dynamic person who was a scientist, educator, artist, humanitarian and inspiration. This episode includes perspectives from Curtis Gregory from the George Washington Carver National Monument; Dr. John Beasley from Auburn University; and Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller from Tuskegee University.
George Washington Carver is known as the father of the peanut industry. He brought a new understanding of sustainable agriculture to the Southern U.S. to help farmers support their families and have a better life. In this episode, we go beyond the basics and explore Carver as a dynamic person who was a scientist, educator, artist, humanitarian and inspiration. In this episode, we talk with Curtis Gregory from the George Washington Carver National Monument; Dr. John Beasley from Auburn University; and Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller from Tuskegee University.
Curtis Gregory has been a park ranger at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri for 15 years. The Carver National Monument was authorized by Congress in 1943. It was a historic moment because not only was the George Washington Carver National Monument the first time a unit of the National Park System was established to honor the contributions of an African American, but also this was the first time in United States history that a birthplace site was designated as a national monument to someone other than a United States president.
Gregory says, “The reason that we're here [in Diamond, Missouri] is because the park site is where Carver was born and where he spent about the first 12 years of his life. It all started here in this little in this small park in Diamond.”
Gregory continues, “In our park, this was his formative years, where he began to learn about the natural world of flowers and trees and all sorts of things in the natural world. He wanted to get an education, so after the Civil War in Missouri, Missouri changed its Constitution to allow for Black education, but allow for separate education. And so, in this part of Diamond, there was school for white kids and George and Jim [George’s brother] couldn't go. So, he left here around the age of 12, and started his journey for an education. And he never, never gave up.”
While many know Carver for his numerous incredible impact on science, like the contributions to Southern agriculture that earned him a Roosevelt Medal, he started out life with different ambitions—wanting to be an artist.
“This is where Carver learned to paint as a kid. We have a beautiful little park here and we have a wooded area. And when he was a kid, he went out into the woods, and he made his own paints. And a lot of our visitors learn here that when he was a kid here, this is where he learned to paint[…]But you know, he never gave up that love of painting and he painted for the rest of his life. We're very fortunate here at the park that we have three original [Carver] paintings.”
Dr. John Beasley, professor of agronomic crops at Auburn University, believes Carver’s role in agriculture cannot be understated. Beasley says, “First of all, George Washington Carver was a phenomenal scientist. I mean, there are literally hundreds of 1000s of scientists around the world and in the United States. And when you'd look back through the centuries, in the multiple decades, there's two or three names that rise to the top of scientists that work in various forms of the different disciplines of science and make people think of Einstein in physics and stuff like that. But when you think of agricultural scientists, there's two at the top of my list just automatically. That's George Washington Carver and then Dr. Norman Borlaug.”
Dr. Beasley says, “What Dr. George Washington Carver did, he developed the mobile classroom. I don't know if a lot of people know this. It was called the Jessup wagon. And what he did was, he knew that the people that he needed to get the information to didn't necessarily have the means to travel to Tuskegee, Alabama. So, he went to them with his moveable classroom. So, this Jessup wagon he would load up and go and he would travel and get the growers maybe in Marengo County, Alabama, or up in Limestone County, Alabama, and would meet with him and talk about the importance of crop rotation and soil health and quality and soil conservation. That is extension, going to the people. I mean, I did that as an extension keynote agronomist for 28 plus years. I would travel to the farmers, now they would come to us as well for meetings and conferences and short courses, but a lot of the times we did the producers meeting, that's no different. When you look at it, going to the producer, bringing the information to them, Dr. Carver was a leader in that regard. And the fact that he realized the importance of going to the people not just hanging out in Tuskegee and trying to figure out ways to make peanuts more useful. He found it important to go to them.”
Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller is the Dean of the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences at Tuskegee University. This is the same role Dr. Carver served in during his time at Tuskegee. Dr. Tiller has had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Carver’s former students.
Dr. Bolden-Tiller said, “[Carver] promoted being one with each other, one with the land and doing so in a way that would help and benefit all. He even wrote down eight rules to live by that and I've had the opportunity actually to meet some of Carver's former students, if you can imagine. And they talk about these rules to live by…The first is be clean, both inside and out. Neither look up to the rich nor down to the poor. Lose if need be without squealing. Win without bragging. Always be considerate of women, children and older people. Be too brave to lie. And be too generous to cheat. And I think that that is how Carver moved forward. I think he shared those rules and that philosophy with others. And I think because he was very focused on those things, he didn't let the small stuff, if you would, make him sweat."