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George Washington Carver was an African American Scientist during the late 19th and early 20th century. His exact birthdate and birthyear are said to be unknown although some say that he was born in 1864, in or around Diamond Grove, Missouri. What is known, is that he was born into slavery. Both his mother and sister, and he were abducted when he was an infant. Their owner, Moses Carver, sought them, but could only find the baby, abandoned. Later, records suggest that both the mother and sister died of illness.
His relationship with his owners Moses and Susan, who he referred to as Uncle and Aunt, was one of kindness and consideration. When he was still little, slavery was abolished. Susan and Moses raised him and his brother Jim as family. Susan particularly encouraged young his intellectual pursuits. Susan and Moses were happy to see the Civil War end and slavery abolished, and very seriously undertook raising the two boys.
Carver was a sickly and weak child, who suffered from a persistent cough. As a result, he could not work the farms and labor as his brother did. Instead he fell in love with the flowers and plants surrounding his home, and wanted to know about every plant that existed. He early found a love of painting, and would use vegetables and fruits to make paints so he could paint his beloved flowers.
Since he could only receive little education from “Aunt Susan,” he moved from town to town in Kansas and Missouri in pursuit of a high school education. It took him years longer than most students to graduate because he had to work to support himself. Later, a family in Iowa encouraged him to try for college. He was finally accepted at Simpson College, and then transferred to Iowa State University.
While Carver intended to study music and art, he was convinced instead to study agriculture since he could expect a better living. Music and art became secondary loves as he seriously studied agricultural science.
1896 brought him an offer from Booker T. Washington to teach at Tuskegee, Alabama. He accepted and would remain there until his death in 1943. He immediately became interested in helping the poor black farmers of the surrounding area, and was particularly interested in crop rotation to improve cotton production. To accomplish this, He advocated planting crops that would add nitrogen back to the soil, among them, peanuts and sweet potatoes.
Since farmers needed to make the most of their crops, Carver invented over 100 uses each for the sweet potato and peanut. Contrary to popular belief, he did not invent peanut butter. Instead he derived oils, soaps and glues from the products, as well as adding them to foods.
Through the 1900s, Carver took a mobile school out to poor farmers to teach them how to make the most of their land. He showed them how to make paints from clay, and taught them how to weave mats for their floors. Though initially, both black and white poor farmers were suspicious of his motives, he managed to become an important member of the farming community, helping to significantly improve the lives of the poor.
His fame grew, particularly after his eulogy given at Booker T. Washington’s funeral in 1915. He later personally knew three US President: both Roosevelts and Calvin Coolidge. His personal philosophy of sharing his learning with the community was hailed as a tremendously humanistic approach. He lived very frugally and never married.
He also received numerous awards during his lifetime, and many posthumously. His face has appeared on two US stamps. He was the first African American subject for a National Monument, which stands in Diamond, Missouri.
George Washington Carver was one of America's greatest scientists, and also one of the most overlooked, which is a shame.
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