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Black News and News Makers in History: George Washington Carver

African American news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes George Washington Carver this week in Black historyGeorge Washington Carver, botantist, chemist, scientist, educator, inventor, and researcher, died January 5, 1943, succumbing to anemia at the age of 81 on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute.

He was known as the "Wizard of Tuskegee," the predominantly Black educational institution in Tuskegee, Ala. He was a pioneering plant chemist and agricultural researcher noted for his work with the peanut and soil restoration while at Tuskegee Institute, developing more than 300 products from the peanut as well as the sweet potato, soybeans and pecans. Among the listed items that he suggested to southern farmers to help them economically were his recipes and improvements to/for: adhesives, 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.

Carver's research also helped advance farming techniques throughout American agriculture. During World War I, he found a way to replace the textile dyes formerly imported from Europe. He produced dyes of 500 different shades of dye and he was responsible for the invention in 1927 of a process for producing paints and stains from soybeans. Two other patents were for cosmetics and plant products (1925) and paints and stains (1925).

In 1935, Carver was appointed to the Department of Agriculture by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to address the southern farming crisis. Among other things, he advised farmers to use crop rotation. Since peanuts and sweet potato crops have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots, these plants restore nitrogen levels in the soil, which helps other plants like cotton and tobacco to grow better. Other rotation crops included peas, soybeans and pecans.

Dr. Carver was awarded the Roosevelt Medal in 1939 for saving Southern Agriculture (which was later instrumental in feeding the United States during its involvement in W.W.II). He also produced educational pamphlets to farmers.

In 1941, 'Time' magazine dubbed him a "Black Leonardo", a reference to the Renaissance Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci. Through the fame of his achievements and many talents, the long held stereotypes of inferior intellect were dispelled for an entire race.

Upon his death, Dr. Carver's hometown was made a historic site. President Harry S. Truman signed the Joint Resolution on December 28, 1945, saying, "I do hereby call upon officials of the Government to have the flag at half staff on all government buildings on January 5, 1946 in commemoration of the achievements of George Washington Carver."

During the 79th Congress, Public Law 290 was passed to designate, beginning January 5, 1946 and each year on his death as George Washington Carver Recognition Day. Carver was honored by many around the world and received numerous awards, but he did not seek those acknowledgements. He loved agriculture and science and his passion was to improve everything he could for the benefit of mankind.

A commemorative stamp of George Washington Carver is issued by the U.S. Postal Service January 5, 1948. The posthumous honor bestowed upon the famed agricultural expert and researcher is only one of the many awards he received, including the 1923 Spingarn Medal and membership in the NYU Hall of Fame.

From the Beginning

The exact day and year of his birth are unknown; he is believed to have been born before slavery was abolished in Missouri in January 1864.

Born toward the end of the Civil War near Diamond Grove, Missouri on the farm of Moses Carver, the infant George and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate night-raiders and possibly sent away to Arkansas. Moses Carver found and reclaimed George after the war but his mother had disappeared. The identity of Carver's father remains unknown, although he believed his father was a slave from a neighboring farm. Moses and Susan Carver reared George and his brother as their own children. It was on the Moses' farm where George first fell in love with nature, where he earned the nickname 'The Plant Doctor' and collected in earnest all manner of rocks and plants.

He began his formal education at the age of twelve, which required him to leave the home of his adopted parents since the segregated school was a distance away in Newton County, Missouri. He worked as a farm hand and studied in a one-room schoolhouse. He went on to attend Minneapolis High School in Kansas. College entrance was a struggle, again because of racial barriers.

At the age of thirty, Carver gained acceptance to Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where he was the first black student. Carver had to study piano and art and the college did not offer science classes. Intent on a science career, he later transferred to Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in 1891, where he gained a Bachelor of Science degree in 1894 and a Master of Science degree in bacterial botany and agriculture in 1897. Carver became a member of the faculty of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanics (the first black faculty member for Iowa College), teaching classes about soil conservation and chemurgy.

In 1897, Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes, convinced Carver to come south and serve as the school's Director of Agriculture. Carver remained on the faculty until his death in 1943.

It is rare to find a man of the caliber of George Washington Carver. A man who would decline an invitation to work for a salary of more than $100,000 a year (almost a million today) to continue his research on behalf of his countrymen. He did not patent or profit from most of his products. He freely gave his discoveries to mankind. Most important was the fact that he changed the South from being a two-crop land of cotton and tobacco, to being multi-crop farmlands, with farmers having hundreds of profitable uses for their new crops. "God gave them to me" he would say about his ideas, "How can I sell them to someone else?" In 1940, Carver donated his life savings to the establishment of the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee, for continuing research in agriculture.

George Washington Carver was bestowed an honorary doctorate from Simpson College in 1928. He was an honorary member of the Royal Society of Arts in London, England.

In 1923, he received the Spingarn Medal given every year by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 1939, he received the Roosevelt medal for restoring southern agriculture.

Compiled from www.anothershadeofcolor.com, Wikipedia, and http://inventors.about.com/od/cstartinventors/a/GWC.htm.