George Washington Carver is universally portrayed as the “Peanut Man,” the discoverer of a myriad of uses for the peanut in food recipes, cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline and even nitroglycerin.
But as African American History Month is recognized in February this year, there is recognition that his work, life and faith was much more than that.
In his 2015 declaration for the history month, Barack Obama wrote, “For generations, the story of American progress has been shaped by the inextinguishable beliefs that change is always possible and a brighter future lies ahead. With tremendous strength and abiding resolve, our ancestors – some of whom were brought to this land in chains – have woven their resilient dignity into the fabric of our nation and taught us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history. It was these truths that found expression as foot soldiers and Freedom Riders sat in and stood up, marched and agitated for justice and equality.”
“This audacious movement gave birth to a new era of civil and voting rights, and slowly, we renewed our commitment to an ideal at the heart of our founding: no matter who you are, what you look like, how modest your beginnings, or the circumstances of your birth, you deserve every opportunity to achieve your God-given potential.
“As we mark National African American History Month, we celebrate giants of the civil rights movement and countless other men and women whose names are etched in the hearts of their loved ones and the cornerstones of the country they helped to change. We pause to reflect on our progress and our history – not only to remember, but also to acknowledge our unfinished work. We reject the false notion that our challenges lie only in the past, and we recommit to advancing what has been left undone,” he said.
Along with his research on peanuts, Carver was a pioneer in the development of other farm products, such as soybeans and sweet potatoes. His work aided farmers in crop rotation, increasing the diversity of their harvest and improving their nutrition and quality of life.
According to William J. Federer, in his book “George Washington Carver – His Life and Faith in His Own Words,” by the early 1940s, Carver’s agricultural contributions had resulted in peanut farming covering more than 5 million acres, with more than $500 million in peanut industry production.
Carver was honored for his work in many ways. In 1916, he was named a Fellow by the Royal Society of London. In 1923, he was presented with the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP for outstanding achievement received an honorary doctorate from Simpson College.
Carver received correspondence from across the world, and he advised leaders from Mohandas K. Gandhi to Josef Stalin, who in 1931 invited Carver to Russia. Thomas Edison reportedly offered Carver a position and a high salary to come work at Menlo Park, an offer he declined.
In 1943, the Liberty ship SS George Washington Carver was launched in his honor and in 1965, the ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) was given his name. The U.S. Congress also designated Jan. 6, the anniversary of his death, as George Washington Carver Recognition Day.
But there are other facets of his life that are not as well known that may be deemed as “politically incorrect.”
Carver said he was born into slavery sometime in January 1864, though he wasn’t sure. Some evidence indicates he was born in July 1861. He was born on the farm of a German immigrant couple, Moses and Susan Carver, in Diamond, Missouri. His mother was named Mary; his father is unknown, though he may have been a field hand named Giles who was killed in a farming accident before George was born.
When he was a few weeks old, he, his mother and his sister were kidnapped by Confederate raiders and taken to Kentucky and sold. Moses Carver sent friends to track down the thieves and traded his best horse to retrieve them. The thieves took the horse and only returned the infant George, lying on the ground, sick with the whooping cough. Carver never saw his mother and sister again. After returning to the farm, Carver was taught to read by Moses Carver and his wife Susan, and as was the custom of the time, George took the surname of his former owners.
It was on the farm where he was a former slave that George Washington Carver became a Christian. Federer’s book noted Carver wrote, “I had been a Christian since about 8 years old.”
Carver had a thirst for education, and that longing took him through a series of jobs to fund his education at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and later to Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (Iowa State) as its first African-American student. It was from Iowa A&M that Carver obtained both a bachelors (1894) and master’s degree (1896) in science. He then went on to become that institution’s first African-American faculty member. One of his students was Henry A. Wallace, who became U.S. secretary of agriculture and later vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In the spring of 1896, Carver received a letter from Tuskegee Institute President Booker T. Washington:
Tuskegee Institute seeks to provide education – a means for survival to those who attend.
Our students are poor, often starving. They travel miles of torn roads, across years of poverty. We teach them to read and write, but words cannot fill stomachs. They need to learn how to plant and harvest crops ….
I cannot offer you money, position or fame. The first two you have. The last, from the place you now occupy, you will no doubt achieve.
Carver accepted the position and responded to Washington in a letter which said, in part, “Some months ago I read your stirring address delivered at Chicago and I said amen to all you said; furthermore you have the correct solution to the ‘race problem.'”
Carver did not become truly rich nor receive a high position, but it was at Tuskegee that he did receive more fame than he could ever have imagined. He also worked in his own way to solve the “race problem.”
Carver established an Agricultural Department at Tuskegee. Between classes he would visit nearby farmers and teach them farming techniques, such as crop rotation, fertilization and erosion prevention. Working with the farmers, he discovered that the soil was becoming depleted by constantly planting cotton in the same fields season after season. To restore the soil, Carver showed them the benefits of crop rotation and planting legumes, such as peanuts, in the fields to replenish the nutrients in the soil.
All through his life, George Washington Carver saw no conflict between science and his faith. He called his laboratory “God’s Little Workshop” and said that he never invented anything; God showed it to him.
He also said: “Why should we who believe in Christ be so surprised at what God can do with a willing man in a laboratory? Some things must be baffling to the critic who has never been born again.”
In a letter to the New York Times in response to an editorial attempting to discredit Carver, the Tuskegee Institute and blacks in general, he wrote: “I regret exceedingly that such a gross misunderstanding should arise as to what was meant by ‘Divine inspiration.’ … Paul, the great Scholar, says, … in Galatians 1:12, For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
As for the “race problem,” Carver had a simple solution. He believed that character was more important than color or race. His writings show that he believed that black America had a lot to offer society. He wrote that blacks were a very smart, hardworking people, but the thing paramount in their life should be to build families, buy land, buy businesses and be able to contribute to society.
Jessie Lee Peterson, an author and radio host, has studied Carver’s life and found that Carver knew that blacks had a lot to offer America. Peterson was born in Alabama, not far from Tuskegee Institute. His high school agricultural teacher used to take his class to Tuskegee for a week every year to learn about farming and Carver and Booker T. Washington.
In an interview, he said Carver came from a society that had no rights, yet he did everything one could do with the sweet potato. He also showed people how to treat the soil.
“You have to have something special to do that,” he said.
Peterson also said Carver had love for his enemies instead of hate, because he knew that all white people were not racists.
“The battle (against racism) was not a physical battle between blacks and whites, it was a spiritual battle between good and evil – right versus wrong.”
Would be crying over dependence on government
Peterson also believes Carver stood for principle, hard work, overcoming anything and not hating an enemy. He stood for family and country.
He thought that Carver would be “turning over in his grave” to see what had happened to black America. He would be “crying in his heart for the way that most black people are.”
“Instead of building families they are relying on government. They are not buying property and they are not buying businesses,” he said.
“Because of that, they have failed with their families, they have failed with their community, and they have failed this great nation and Carver would be absolutely saddened by that, I have no doubt.
“So many of them are not thinking for themselves but, instead, relying on so-called black leaders to think and do for them. For them, everything is built around their color and instead of their character,” Peterson said.
“It got that way because the government came in and offered them free stuff. LBJ got them to believe that this was a racist society and they couldn’t make it without government help. He needed to do that to imprint them on the Democratic Party for [the party’s] own personal gain.”
When the self-appointed civil rights leaders came to the fore, Peterson said, “everything went to hell in a hand basket.”
The civil rights leaders, he said, “are ‘keeping them angry’ when the problem isn’t white racism, it’s black-on-black crime.”
“It’s all about politics and power and not about the people.”
Peterson said that rather than a culture of self-reliance, government is promoting a culture of servitude. People who choose to rely on the government rather than God and themselves will give the excuse that they are “trapped” by the system.
Carver had an answer for that.
He said, “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
In his book “Scam,” Peterson wrote that “‘so-called’ civil rights activists, such as Jesse Jackson, were looking after their own career rather than black people.”
Carver, Peterson said, “would have repudiated President Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and several other so-called civil rights leaders, including T. D. Jakes , Martin Luther King III, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and all the people who attended Michael Brown’s funeral and gave him a hero’s departure. ”
“They treated him as if he were a hero and not a thug. Carver would have spoken out loudly about that,” Peterson said.
“If George Washington Carver were alive today, I have no doubt that he would repudiate Michael Brown and Michael Brown’s family. He would have repudiated Michael Brown for robbing a convenience store and attacking a cop and showing a lack of character as well as his father and mother for not staying together and raise a good citizen,” said Peterson.
“He would have been 100 percent against the people who burned businesses and destroyed property there (Ferguson, Missouri). The unfortunate thing is that he would have been labeled an Uncle Tom and a sellout. The liberal media would have gone after him for that.”‘Civil rights compared to what?’
‘Civil rights compared to what?’
Ben Kinchlow is an author and commentator for WND. He is a former black radical who says he wanted to make war on white America before he found Jesus Christ. He is the author of several books, the latest being “Black Yellowdogs – The Most Dangerous Citizen is not Armed, but Uninformed.” He also has studied Carver’s life and has an opinion on what Carver would have thought about the state of race relations today.
“When we talk about civil rights, we need to put it in perspective. Civil rights compared to what? George Washington Carver was a man that was born a slave, yet he revolutionized the Southern economy. This was at a time when discrimination was the order of the day. What he was saying was that hatred, bitterness, and anger are not solutions,” Kinchlow said.
“George Washington Carver said this about race. ‘There is not any one or two things that will solve the race situation except the Golden Rule way of living. All race questions and issues would pale into insignificance if we would all live in accordance with the Golden Rule.’
“This is a man who was born and lived under all the pressures of slavery. Carver would have an entirely different message for the young men and women in today’s society. There is no college or high school that African-American students cannot attend today. Even when he taught at Tuskegee, which was a segregated school, he taught African-American students not be looking at themselves as being black, but to understand that ‘the genetic code has no meaning (in terms of race). Race and creed have no recognition in the eyes of the Deity. There is no question or questions peculiar to the Negro, but simply a problem with humanity. The same methods and procedures that worked in the civilization or evangelization of all other races are equally applicable to the Negro.
“He was firm believer that God was no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and He couldn’t build a spiritual kingdom on the foundation of prejudice and grief. He said if we hate our fellow man, then we are in big trouble because we shut the love of God out of our lives. Carver said, ‘Hate is the very embodiment of everything that is wrong; nothing too revolting or destructive for it to do; it turns us into fiends incarnate. … Love is the only force that has held the world together to date. God is infinite, the highest embodiment of love. We are finite, surrounded and often filled with hate. We can only understand the infinite as we lose the finite and take on the infinite.’
“That is what we should have done, but, unfortunately, that’s exactly what we haven’t done today. George Washington Carver would roundly and loudly condemn that.”
Federer, the author of “George Washington Carver – His Life and Faith in His Own Words,” also has a website called The American Minute and is a contributor at WND.com
He found one of the outstanding traits of Carver’s life was his humility. Federer related some anecdotal evidence to prove his point.
Carver was invited to speak at an event and was slated to sit at the head table.
“He politely declined and chose to eat with the staff. He knew that while it was an honor for him, he knew that some people would take offense at that and wouldn’t listen to his message,” Federer said.
“He was also in Kansas City one time with a white friend in a restaurant where he was refused service. His white friend left the store when he did saying he was not going to patronize a place that refused him service. That was how it was in his time.”
Federer also related a story that spoke both to Carver’s humility and his religious faith.
On Jan. 21, 1921, at the request of the United Peanut Growers Association, Carver addressed the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee regarding a proposed tariff on imported peanuts.
When he came to testify, a guard looked at his old, worn suit (Carver only had one suit, but put a fresh flower in the lapel every day), didn’t realize who he was and sent him to a side door – the servant’s entrance. It was there he waited the entire day.
When the committee realized what happened and called him to testify, they brought him up the service elevator and informed him that he only had 10 minutes to speak. Carver then began pulling out all the things he invented from the peanut out of his bag. The committee became so enthralled that the chairman said: “Go ahead brother. Your time is unlimited.” Carver spoke for one hour and 45 minutes, explaining the many foods products derived from the peanut. In his testimony, Carver had the following exchange with the committee chairman:
If you go to the first chapter of Genesis, we can interpret very clearly, I think, what God intended when he said, “Behold, I have given you every herb that bears seed. To you it shall be meat.” This is what He means about it. It shall be meat. There is everything there to strengthen and nourish and keep the body alive and healthy.”
After the address, the committee chair asked: “Dr. Carver, how did you learn all of these things?”
Carver answered, “From an old book.”
“What book?” asked the chairman.
Carver replied, “The Bible.”
The chair inquired, “Does the Bible tell about peanuts?”
“No, sir,” Carver replied. “But it tells about the God who made the peanut. I asked Him to show me what to do with the peanut, and He did.”
Federer said: “He could have gotten flustered, he could have gotten his feelings hurt, but he stayed focused. With these and many other slights, he could have taken offense, but he didn’t and that’s one reason he stands out in history. We can take a lesson from Carver because everyone at one point in their life is treated badly. One has the choice of becoming bitter or rising above that.”
Jessie Lee Peterson expanded on Federer’s comment.
“You can find rotten apples in any barrel, but the truth is the black Americans are not suffering because of white racism. White Americans have apologized; they have given blacks everything they have asked for: affirmative action, free housing. I believe there is not a single university that has not gone out of their way trying to get blacks into their schools. It’s all there for black people, but because blacks are angry and kept angry by the race hustlers, even Barack Obama, they don’t take advantage of it. Until we deal with black racism to white Americans and black conservatives, this racism is never going to end. You can’t solve a problem by solving half a problem, you have to solve the whole problem and we have to deal with black racism if we want to heal this mess.”
Ben Kinchlow agrees.
“George Washington Carver did not use race as an excuse to fail. He could have easily done that. He was a sick young boy and was a sick young child, yet sought God’s insight and rather than using race or color as an excuse for failure, he utilized this to draw closer to his Creator and become one of the foremost scientists of his day. That is the message I want to give young African Americans today.”