Thursday, February 1, 2018

Black History Month: George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (front row, center) poses with fellow staff members at the Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University) located in the U.S. state of Alabama. 1902

George Washington Carver's rise from poverty to a celebrated scientist is just one of the remarkable qualities of his life.

He was born into slavery in 1865, kidnapped at one week old by the KKK, returned to the white family that would later raise him as a son, and was later refused college admission because he was black. He persisted and not only graduated but became a professor. But, in my opinion, these details aren't the most unusual facts about him

He was fascinated by the natural world, and began the study of botany even as a child. With persistence, he graduated from an agricultural college and later became the first black faculty member. He had been the first black student. That's remarkable, but not the most remarkable thing about him.

The eminent educator, Booker T. Washington, invited Carver to the Tuskegee Institute when it first opened in 1896. Carver accepted, and continued there for over forty years until his death. He was internationally recognized. Henry Ford invited him to Dearborn to speak many times (he accepted) and Thomas Edison offered him a fortune to work at Edison Laboratories (he refused.) That's not common.

George Washington Carver chose to remain at Tuskegee because he felt he had a vocation to help the black poor in the South. He is viewed as a 'folk' saint due to his choice to live humbly, with impeccable morality, and frugally when he could have been very wealthy (he left $60,000 to the school when he passed away.) He lived his personal faith for service of his students.

What is the most unusual fact about him? He promoted good relations among the races despite the treatment he received, and he consistently, diligently used his genius to benefit others. Always. That's extremely unique.

His first teacher, after his adopted mother, gave him the following instruction. It appears he really nailed it.

"You must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people."

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