By Anthonie and Shatara Seymour (Leonard Wood)November 20, 2014
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Nov. 20, 2014) -- For many Americans, George Washington Carver's name conjures images of peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes. To others, his achievements as a scientist and inventor are eclipsed by the fact that he was an African American who excelled in an almost exclusively white profession in the early 20th century.
However, few know of his love and great talent for art, especially painting. Visitors can learn about Carver's love of art and hundreds of other facts about his powerful life and enduring legacy of service at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri.
In July of 1943, Congress designated the George Washington Carver National Monument as the first birthplace monument dedicated to anyone other than a U.S. president. It is also the first to be dedicated to an American for services in agriculture, the first established for an African American, the first for an American educator, the first for an American scientist, and the first national monument established in the four-state area of Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.
From Fort Leonard Wood, it is a two-and-one-half-hour drive southwest on I-44 to the quaint town of Diamond, where visitors can see Carver's humble beginnings from the foundation of his slave quarters to photographs of his life and stories of the obstacles he overcame to serve his fellow man. People can learn about his childhood dreams and lifetime achievements while discovering Carver's love of God through his legacy of service.
Upon arrival to the historic monument, individuals are welcomed by the staff at the visitor center, which has information, a museum, interactive exhibits about history and science, classrooms for programs on Carver's life, an observation deck, a film and bookstore. The monument is open daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Carver was born a slave on the Moses and Susan Carver farm around 1864 near Diamond Grove, Missouri. Slave raiders from Arkansas kidnapped both the infant Carver and his mother. George was found on the side of a road, but his mother, Mary, was never heard from again. The Carvers became surrogate parents to George and his older brother, Jim, caring for them and teaching them to read.
As a small child, George developed whooping cough, which almost killed him. Because of his weak physical condition, George did not have to do the typical hard slave labor of a black boy on the farm; instead, he performed household chores with Susan while Jim worked the fields with Moses.
George loved nature and was given free reign of the nearby woods, and he spent much of his time exploring and "talking with God." George felt that the Creator revealed himself through his creations and even helped George to solve problems. Eventually, George became known as the "Plant Doctor" for his green thumb in helping neighboring farmers bring plants back to life.
However, as carefree as Carver's youth might have seemed, his life was not to be limited to simple strolls through the woods. He would face the dangers of violence, the toils of prejudice in higher learning, and the snares of blatant bigotry in his journey for a life of significance.
All the while, Carver wanted more. He sought to be of service to people and was inspired by his love of God. Carver attended the Neosho Colored School around 1875, and at about age 11, he left the Carver farm in search of fulfilling what he felt was a call from God of service to mankind.
Carver attended a series of schools before receiving his diploma at Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas. He applied for and was accepted to attend Highland College in Highland, Kansas, but was rejected when he arrived in person and college administrators saw that he was black.
Often rejected because of his race, Carver never gave up, never quit, and didn't take "no" for an answer. He homesteaded a claim, and for four years conducted biological experiments and compiled a geological collection.
Finally, in 1890, he was accepted as an art major at Simpson College in Iowa, where he was the only African American in attendance. One of his teachers, Etta Budd, quickly recognized his talent, and was especially amazed by his detail for painting flowers and plants. She encouraged him to study at Iowa State Agricultural College in the field of botany. It was in agriculture that Carver saw a means to help his people.
George earned a Bachelor of Agriculture degree in 1894 and a Masters of Agriculture degree in 1896. On Oct. 8, 1896, Carver became the Tuskegee Institute's Agriculture director at the request of Booker T. Washington. Carver's contributions to American horticulture became vitally important in light of America's dwindling crop yields due to mismanagement, overuse and the boll weevil blight of 1892.
Carver's research was instrumental in helping southern black farmers, many of them former slaves, to develop new cash crops and to diversify crop rotations with new crops that could feed the farmers as well as replenish the soil.
But Carver's efforts not only helped black farmers. His work also promoted the economic welfare of the whole South in the face of cotton's failure to sustain the farming industry.
In 1928, he was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Science from Simpson College, followed by a 1942 honorary degree, Doctor of Science from Selma University in Alabama.
Through his lifelong service to humanity, Carver produced a series of free Agricultural Bulletins that provided information on crops, cultivation techniques and recipes. Carver developed more than 300 uses for the peanut and more than 100 uses for the sweet potato. His peanut work, beginning about 1903, was aimed at freeing African American farmers and the South from the tyranny of "king cotton."
Carver testified to Congress in 1921 debating a peanut tariff bill. He became a symbol of interracial cooperation. His work and encyclopedic knowledge of plant properties impressed Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who sought information from him on industrial uses of plants, including peanuts and soybeans.
Dr. George Washington Carver died at Tuskegee Institute Jan. 5, 1943 and is buried there today.
For more information about the monument, visit www.nps.gov/gwca.
(Information for this article provided by the George Washington Carver National Monument, the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.)