George Washington Carver was born in Diamond, MO, in 1864/5, though the real date is unknown. Born into slavery, Carver’s parents Giles and Mary were owned by a German immigrant slaveholder Moses Carver. At the conclusion of the civil war, Moses Carver and his wife Susan decided to keep George and his brother James. Susan carver taught both boys to read and write, and pushed them to become educated.Later on in his youth, Carver attended a school for black children miles away from the Carver plantation- this is where he started going by “George Carver” instead of “Carver’s George”. Carver earned his diploma from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, KS. In 1891, Carver enrolled as the first black student to attend Iowa State University. He stayed on after earning his bachelor’s degree by persuasion from some of his professors. It’s here that he established his footing in plant pathology.
After earning his master’s degree, President Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute hired on George Carver to head the agricultural department. During his time there, Washington researched to help replace cotton fields with new cash crops. He developed new uses for cash crops like peanuts, pecans, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. Many of the field owners were former slaves themselves trying to compete in a market that had already faced harsh conditions. This helped stabilize southern agricultural economy and establish black sharecroppers.
Later on in his life, Carver became renowned nationally and globally for his work.He spoke infront of the peanut growers society about the usefulness of peanuts, and testified to congress to support an imported peanut tariff. In 1916, he was inducted into the British Royal Society of Arts and spoke with world leaders about science and civil progress.
Towards the end of his life, Carver traveled the United States talking to all about agricultural progress the Tuske
gee Institute, and the possibility of “racial harmony in the United States” (Bio.com). He toured the southern US on a commission for interracial cooperation between the years of 1923-24. Though a man who stayed out of politics, Carver’s position raised dialogues about segregation and racism. He was dubbed the “Black Leonardo” by Time in 1941, and was friends with Henry Ford, another well known American inventor and tinkerer.
Carver died on January 5th, 1943 at the age of 78. His legacy leaves behind multiple schools named in his honor, a monument in Diamond, MO, and two US military vessels
. Carver himself founded the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee to help ensure a future for agricultural sciences. In her book George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol, Lynda McMurray states that, “In the last four years of his life, his name was attached to almost everything even remotely connected with blacks… Eventually it became practically impossible to enter a black community anywhere in America without being reminded of the existence of a man named George Washington Carver”
. An icon for both white and black Americans, Carver’s legacy reminds us that science is sometimes one of the better substrates for social progress.