George Washington Carver was born a slave during the Civil War, possibly around the date of July 12, 1865, but there are no records.
Within a few weeks, his father, who belonged to the next farm over, was killed in a log hauling accident. Shortly after the Civil War, while still an infant, George was kidnapped along with his mother and sister by bushwhackers. Moses Carver, a German immigrant, sent friends to track down the thieves and offered to trade his best horse to retrieve them.
Told to leave the horse and come back later, the thieves only left baby George lying on the ground, sick with the whooping cough. George never saw his mother and sister again. Illness claimed the lives of his two other sisters and they were buried on the Carver farm.
George and his older brother, Jim, were raised on the farm in Diamond Grove, Missouri, by “Uncle” Moses and “Aunt” Sue Carver, who were childless. In poor health as a child, George stayed near the house helping with chores, learning to cook, clean, sew, mend and wash laundry. His recreation was to spend time in the woods.
George worked his way through grade school, high school and college, eventually joining the staff at Iowa State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts.
In the fall of 1896, George surprised the staff by announcing his plans to give up his promising future there and join the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which was founded by Booker T. Washington. The staff showed Carver their appreciation by purchasing him a going-away present, a microscope, which he used extensively throughout his career.
At Tuskegee, George assembled an Agricultural Department. He visited nearby farmers and taught them farming techniques, such as crop rotation, fertilization and erosion prevention.
Carver noticed that the soil was depleted due to years of repeated cotton growth and produced very poorly. Also, an insect called the boll weevil swept through the South, destroying cotton crops and leaving farmers devastated. Farmers heeded Carver’s advice but soon had more peanuts than the market wanted, as peanuts were primarily used as animal feed.
George determined to increase the market for peanuts by discovering and popularizing hundreds of uses for them. He did the same for the sweet potato, pecan, soybean, cowpea, wild plum and okra. George credited Divine inspiration for giving him ideas regarding how to perform experiments.
In the summer of 1920, the Young Men’s Christian Association of Blue Ridge, North Carolina, invited Professor Carver to speak at their summer school for the southern states. Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, president of Blue Ridge, introduced him as the speaker. With his high voice surprising the audience, Dr. Carver exclaimed humorously: “I always look forward to introductions as opportunities to learn something about myself …”
He continued: “Years ago I went into my laboratory and said, ‘Dear Mr. Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?’ The Great Creator answered, ‘You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask for something more your size, little man.’ Then I asked, ‘Please, Mr. Creator, tell me what man was made for.’ Again the Great Creator replied, ‘You are still asking too much. Cut down on the extent and improve the intent.’ So then I asked, ‘Please, Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?’ ‘That’s better, but even then it’s infinite. What do you want to know about the peanut?’ ‘Mr. Creator, can I make milk out of the peanut?’ ‘What kind of milk do you want? Good Jersey milk or just plain boarding house milk?’ ‘Good Jersey milk.’ And then the Great Creator taught me to take the peanut apart and put it together again. And out of the process have come forth all these products!”
Among the numerous products displayed was a bottle of good Jersey milk. Three and-a-half ounces of peanuts produced one pint of rich milk or one quart of raw “skim” milk, called boarding house “blue john” milk.
On Jan. 21, 1921, Carver addressed the United States House Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the United Peanut Growers Association on the use of peanuts to improve Southern economy. George expounded on the many potential uses of the peanut as a means to improve the Southern economy. Initially given only ten minutes to speak, George Carver so enthralled the committee that the chairman said, “Go ahead Brother. Your time is unlimited!”
George spoke for one hour and forty-five minutes, explaining the many food products that could be derived from peanuts: “If you go to the first chapter of Genesis, we can interpret very clearly, I think, what God intended when he said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb that bears seed. To you it shall be meat.’ This is what He means about it. It shall be meat. There is everything there to strengthen and nourish and keep the body alive and healthy.”
The Committee Chairman asked Carver: “Dr. Carver, how did you learn all of these things?”
Carver answered, “From an old book.”
“What book?” asked the Chairman.
Carver replied, “The Bible.”
The Chairman inquired, “Does the Bible tell about peanuts?”
“No, sir,” Carver replied. “But it tells about the God who made the peanut. I asked Him to show me what to do with the peanut, and He did.”
On Nov. 19, 1924, Carver spoke to over 500 people at the Women’s Board of Domestic Missions: “God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing I am to do and the way are revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain, I would be helpless. Only alone can I draw close enough to God to discover His secrets.”
On March 24, 1925, Carver wrote to Robert Johnson, an employee of Chesley Enterprises of Ontario: “Thank God I love humanity; complexion doesn’t interest me one single bit.”
On July 10, 1924, George Washington Carver wrote to James Hardwick: “God cannot use you as He wishes until you come into the fullness of His Glory. Do not get alarmed, my friend, when doubts creep in. That is old Satan. Pray, pray, pray. Oh, my friend, I am praying that God will come in and rid you entirely of self so you can go out after souls right, or rather have souls seek the Christ in you. This is my prayer for you always.”
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