Carver Days this year was extra-special in that a new film about the life of Dr. Carver was released. This quality movie was professionally done and will replace the older movie that has been shown at the park since 1984. Both the older film and the new film— “Struggle and Triumph: The Legacy of George Washington Carver”— can be purchased in the park’s bookstore.
Dr. Carver was a renowned agricultural scientist, chemist, educator, and humanitarian. He was born into slavery around the end of the Civil War era. Although there were no official records kept, July 14 of 1865 is recognized as his birthdate. Born during difficult and changing times, as an infant, he and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate raiders (bushwhackers) in hopes of selling them for money. Eventually, young George was recovered and returned to the Carvers; however, his mother was never seen again.
Moses and Sue Carver, a childless couple who had immigrated from Germany, raised George and his older brother Jim as their own children. It was on the Carver farm that young George learned to love and appreciate nature, spending hours in the woods collecting rocks and plants and was even given the nickname, “the plant doctor.” Because of segregation and racial barriers, it was difficult for him to get the education he desired. Trying to attend college was always a struggle for any young black man at that time, though, eventually, Carver was accepted at Iowa Agriculture College, which today in Iowa State University. It was there that he received his Bachelor of Science degree, as well as his Masters, and became a member of the faculty, the first black man to do so. In 1897 Booker T. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute, asked Carver to become the Director of Agriculture. Carver accepted and remained in that position until his death in 1943.
Moving to the South, where decades of growing cotton and tobacco had depleted the soil of vital nutrients, Carver helped the farmers in that region to develop farming practices that would again make the soil productive—crop rotation, fertilizers, and work in the eradication of pests, like the cotton boll weevil. As an agricultural chemist, Carver discovered over 300 uses for the peanut, and hundreds more uses for soybeans and sweet potatoes. He introduced these to serve as rotation crops to help put nitrogen back into the tobacco and cotton depleted soils and is credited with the rebuilding of the agricultural economy in the South. In addition to his work with agriculture, Dr. Carver is also credited with such products as adhesive, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, fuel briquettes, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder and wood stain. In all of these he only applied for three patents. Furthermore, Dr. Carver is said to have rejected a salary offer of $100,000 a year (equivalent to about $1 million today) in order to continue his research and teaching.
Dr. George Washington Carver was a pioneer in agricultural research and development, and were he alive today, he would most likely continue to be active in those areas, searching for more new products to benefit his fellow man.
Besides the national park staff, there is a local volunteer group—Carver Birthplace Association—who assists with Carver Days and other projects and events to help further the Carver legacy.
Take the opportunity soon to visit the George Washington Carver National Monument at Diamond, where you can view the new video of his life and work and have the privilege to browse through the museum and look at the artifacts displayed there. It is truly a treasure right in our own back yards.