It’s Missouri, 1865 or close to it, and slave raiders are roaming the countryside to kidnap freed or soon to be freed, slaves. Again! Abduction enslaves Mary Carver, her infant son, George, and possibly her young daughter. The Confederate veterans have formed the “Ku Klux Klan” with plans to reverse the federal government’s Reconstruction-era policies that establish political and economic equality for four billion dollars worth of freed Black American Slaves. That’s what slavery was worth in 1865. But why what this happening? Hero after hero had just died fighting to free slaves in the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. Imagine the chaos!
How were the heroes made? I’d say with the willingness to sacrifice personal benefit for others. It’s that voice inside that cries sorrowful pain to see another suffer. This kind of nobility is that of those who serve others at the cost of themselves.
WHO WAS GEORGE?
The tiny infant abducted by raiders would become one of the most renowned scientists, educators, and humanitarian of our times. And the journey of his life was not one he took alone. How many did it take to save baby George Washington Carver? How many steps were taken to support him? —Love and kindness show the whole world in this true story who benefits from justice. — That it takes more than one to make that hero. How you might never be able to count how many there are.
In the hands of raiders, George is in Kentucky soon to be sold. And white, black, yellow, made no difference. If you’re a sympathizer, you put yourself and anyone close to you in danger. And if you live in a place like Missouri, it’s a border state with both Union and Confederate. It sent armies, generals, and supplies to both sides, displayed a star on both flags while maintaining dual governments. Missouri was a bloody neighbor-against-neighbor.
THE CAPTOR BECOMES THE SAVIOR
Moses Carver, a white plantation owner, had purchased Mary at age 13. He was against slavery but bought her for his 240-acre farm. She and Giles, another slave from a neighboring farm, became a couple baring children, George was their last. But even after the war, it would take another 100 years before equal rights began to offer what the idea of reconstruction even meant.
A mother’s love is of the highest levels of heroes. So, I will venture to call Mary his first hero. There is a possibility that Geroge was hidden in the cracks of the floor at their location in Kentucky. So, it is said.
But now it is Moses Carver time. He has but one question to answer:
“What do I do? What can I do?”
Learning they were in Kentucky, Moses hired John Bentley, a soldier, and neighbor, to retrieve them. Unfortunately, only baby George was located, and Moses purchased him back by offering one of his finest horses. A baby’s life for a horse! A man who had a choice served another at his own cost.
Now consider a black infant in the unrest of this ear. What would white Moses do with a dark-skinned baby? Why did he own slaves if he didn’t believe it human? He would have no gain from saving George, he’d have to feed him, care for him, and raise him. Plus, again, Missouri was in unrest. This uncommon act to adopt a slave baby most likely caused Moses Carver and his wife difficulties.
Moses Carver and his wife Susan took George and his brother James into their home, raising and educating them as their own sons. (The picture to the right is the Carver home.) Susan taught the boys to read and write since no local school would accept black students.
James, the older son, forfeited a higher education to work the fields with Moses. However, George was frail and couldn’t labor in the same fashion. Susan educated him on domestic skills: how to cook, sew, embroider, do laundry, and tend a garden where she also taught him herbology and simple herbal medicines.
(George to the left and James to the right in the picture.)
It was Susan’s tutelage in herbal medicines that sparked George’s fame. He experimented in the family garden with natural pesticides, fungicides, and soil conditioners to become known as the “the plant doctor” to the locals as a small boy who improved the health of their gardens, fields, and orchards. Granted, this incredible part of his life took place before the age of eleven!
ANDREW AND MARIAH WATKINS
At age 11, he attended an all-black school in Neosho. His transition from birth, the loss of his mother and father from two different tragedies, and then be taken in and loved by the Carvers, now places him on the next part of his journey.
Andrew and Mariah Watkins, an African American couple gave him room and board for household chores. School was not as it is today, education past the fifth grade cost a family. And I cannot guess how things transpired, but to his luck, Mariah was a midwife and nurse, who imparted upon him her broad knowledge of medicinal herbs.
In the next decade or so, he traveled, putting himself through school with the domestic skills he’d been taught by his foster mothers Susan and Mariah. And he graduated from Minneapolis High School, in 1880 after which, he was initially accepted to an all-white college, Highland University, but was rejected later when they discovered he was black. It was thought, the university feared the loss of their ability to raise funds typically needed for all universities. And after a few years of homesteading in western Kansas, he moved to Iowa.
In the late 1880s, the next step in George’s life led him to the Milholland’s, a white family in Winterset, Iowa. With encouragement from this family, George pursued higher education at Simpson College. It was a Methodist College in Indianola, Iowa, admitting all qualified applicants. His acceptance there played a huge part in continuing his great achievements.
It was then that Etta Budd, his art teacher, and yet another remarkable person in the story that encouraged him to go into agriculture. Geroge was made welcome at Simpson as the only African American student! He later wrote about them.
…they made me believe I was a real human being.
I can only imagine that he suffered by the hand of prejudice prior to Simpson collage. But he was man who spoke of positive things most often. For that, he is my hero.
Etta recognized George’s talent in art, but she worried that his race would prevent him from selling his work. He had shown her first hand of his talents with plants. His education before he entered the study of agriculture had been largely self-taught with remarkable success, therefore, she pushed George to apply to the Iowa State Agricultural School (now Iowa State University) to study botany as an opportunity for him to help his fellow African American’s, and make a living. He again became the first African American student in another college at Iowa State!
Miss Budd advised me to take up agriculture in order to render a greater service to my people. — George Washington Carver
Miss Budd helped me in whatever way she could; often going far out of her way to encourage and see that I had such things as I needed. — George Washington Carver
GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER MAKES BLACK HISTORY
In 1894, George Carver became the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science degree.
His life began in a tiny cabin not bigger than a closet in American standards today.
The image shows the foundation of the slave cabin George’s family lived in until they were accepted into the main house.
IT’S GREAT TO BE RESPECTED BY YOUR PROFESSOR!
Now without any surprise, George’s professor was impressed by his research on the fungal infections of soybean plants. And George was asked to stay on for graduate studies.
Carver’s world now brought him to work with famed mycologist (fungal scientist) L.H. Pammel at the Iowa State Experimental Station. Where he continued his education and skills in identifying and treating plant diseases.
It’s now 1896, where George has earned his Master of Agriculture degree. And offers are flowing in, but the most attractive comes with Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama, where George accepted the position of Director of the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School.
It has always been the one great ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of ‘my people’ possible and to this end I have been preparing myself these many years; feeling as I do that this line of education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom to our people. — George Washington Carver
His incredible journey from slavery through each individual who gave him a chance has now helped him find the greatness that no man could ever take from him. George now convinced Tuskegee University’s trustees to establish an agricultural school, and he would keep its all-black faculty.
Carver’s travels were over, and he would spend the rest of his life at the university.
So, what does a great man like George do? He raised the standard of living for his fellow man. His road, I’m sure, had many pains of suffering. It’s easy to glance over the highlights of his journey and forget what happened between the sunny days. But regardless of dark clouds, George’s mantra was positive in everything he left behind and every bit of science he freely gave to the world.
He revolutionized Southern agriculture, but agriculture training in the late 1800s was not popular — Southern farmers felt they knew enough about farming? As well, the agricultural school had become a means to escape the grueling life of farming. So, George had his work cut out for him with farmers. And back at the university, many faculty members resented his high salary and rights to have two dormitory rooms, one for him and one for his plant specimens. Sounds cool to me!
After his successes in the laboratory and the community, he taught poor African American farmers ways to survive with new methods. He empowered them to sustain. Feeding hogs acorns instead of commercial feed, and enriching croplands with swamp muck instead of fertilizers, was an economic strategy that saved farms, families, and who knows what else?
Carver became ludicrously famous for many things, especially with peanuts — possibly the most famous black man in America for decades after his death. His discoveries on soil chemistry revealed how cotton had stripped the nutrients from the soil, resulting in low yields. Not only was his solution affordable, it was economically brilliant. By growing nitrogen-fixing plants like peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, the soil would restore itself, crops would increase their yields. With crop rotation cotton could be grown again a few years later. This in itself was world-changing
Settlers in the late 1800s already had enough on their plate — starvation, being run out by natural disasters, the sword of disease, and struggle at every turn was typical life. But, Geroge’s contributions would be responsible for calculatable changes in our history. The slaves left to starve after the war was inhumane.
He devised over 100 products using one major crop — the peanut — including dyes, plastics, and gasoline. The incredible man advised Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi on matters of agriculture and nutrition. And helped Henry Ford make “peanut” rubber for cannons for World War II. He was a man ahead of his time in an era that claimed him worthless at his birth. How many people did it take to save baby George? It’s paradoxical, think “one”, himself, and then think again.
He did not profit from most of his life’s work. By choice! He gave it to you and me, to our children and the world. He valued life’s knowledge, not the dollar to be made from it.
THROUGH ARDUOUS WORK AND EDUCATION HE BECAME A VOICE!
Georg’s voice now was strong. He was a successful botanist and inventor. He recognized the value in early elementary science education. And promoted nature study in schools. The very idea that connecting to nature and the earth would enlighten humans, was something you might not imagine a topic in the 1800s. Giving respect to the earth that sustains us, was just another foresight he valued and gave to the world.
THE BIGGER PICTURE THAT GEORGE SAW
We forget that throughout time, the mind of man was as it is today. That the appreciation and wisdom through education can lead us to greatness. The knowledge that taking care of the planet we live on is not just our responsibility but who we are, is ancient. Do you ever wonder where you belong in this universe? Why does the world feel so foreign in it’s own skin? You might question your own existence and purpose. Well, the answers are simple and close to you. When was the last time you felt dirt beneath your fingers? Your answers are in the minds of those who connect themselves to the world they live in. By connecting to the fundamentals we take for granted, we find the purpose of our lives and a better understanding of the bigger picture: our universe.
THE FAME OF BABY GEORGE
George Washington Carver became one of America’s most esteemed scientists, inventors, and botanist. He received the 1923 Spingarn Medal and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The George Washington Carver National Monument was the first national monument dedicated to a black American and the first to a non-president. He started this life known as Carver’s George and, when freed, took the name, George Carver, adding Washington later to be known as George Washington Carver.
“No individual has any right to come into the world and
go out of it without leaving something behind.”
— George Washington Carver
Upon his death in 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked on his passing: “The world of science has lost one of its most eminent figures.”
We can be a passenger in our own lives, or we can drive with control. We all want to believe in something. It is the power in us seeking continuously. So, why not believe that if a man born to slavery can change our world then we all certainly can.
So, how many did it take to save baby George? A Civil War — a world of people who said no to injustice one by one.
Here’s another story you might enjoy. The story of Stagecoach Mary.