Black history is an integral piece of American history that is sometimes overlooked. In honor of Black History Month, I want to explore the life of one courageous black innovator: George Washington Carver, a poor Missouri farm boy born into slavery who was later adopted by German-American immigrants. Although his life was often full of difficulty, young George was determined to succeed.
As an infant, Carver suffered from a severe bout of whooping cough which left him too weak to farm, so he instead threw himself into his studies. He was an intelligent boy with an inquiring mind, and after he graduated high school, he was accepted by mail to Highland College in Kansas. Later, in person, he was rejected simply for being black. Still determined to pursue his studies, Carver attended Iowa State Agricultural College, becoming the first black student. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural science and later taught at his alma mater.
While teaching in Alabama, George Washington Carver spent long periods of time studying various practical uses for peanuts and soybeans. These crops were cheap to grow and easily available to anyone. Carver developed 300 uses for the peanut, including various dyes, glues, ink, cream, and Worcestershire sauce. He also discovered 100 uses for the sweet potato and, when weevils wiped out Southern cotton, Carver helped farmers begin to cultivate and sell these versatile crops.
Carver was recognized by Great Britain’s Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in 1916, and he received the Spingarn Medal given by the NAACP in 1923. Simpson College in Iowa even awarded him an honorary doctorate. Carver was visited by foreign dignitaries such as Gandhi and the prince of Sweden, and he partnered with Henry Ford to create synthetic rubber. Even after his untimely death in 1943, Carver continued to be honored, and in 1990, he became the first black American to be elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
George Washington Carver inspires me because of his passion for education, his persistence through difficulties, and his determination to help people using his knowledge. Despite being born poor and black in an era when African-Americans were not treated equally, Carver didn’t let these obstacles stop him from achieving his goals. He sometimes had to travel ten miles to go to a high school that would accept black students, and several times he had to rent his own rooms in order to attend. In spite of this, he was determined to complete his studies.
Not content to simply obtain a lot of knowledge and skills to move himself up in the world, Carver wanted to help others. He spent years studying peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, looking for practical ways these plants could be useful to people, often people who didn’t have much money. He was incredibly giving of his time and his knowledge to assist people.
George Washington Carver is not a historical figure who usually gets much attention. There are many African-Americans whose accomplishments render them history changers in a more attention-grabbing way, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, and Muhammad Ali. These individuals have also done a lot of good for our country and our society. However, there is little doubt of the impact that George Washington Carver has had on America. He not only made cheaper, better products available to the general public, but he also helped farmers in the South transition from cotton to other plants during a tumultuous crop-growing period. Carver has inspired and will continue to inspire many students to persevere in their studies, to not adapt a victim mentality despite personal circumstances, and to serve others using their talents and skills.