George Washington Carver

Since it’s been a while since I’ve had any new revelations, I’m going to share with you my Biographical Narrative speech that I competed with in the 2011-2012 NCFCA season.

“I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color where it got its life – but there was no one to tell me.”

George Washington Carver had a fascination with God’s creation and wanted to study it.  As a leading scientist of his day he had a particular passion for the study of plants and soil. We can plainly see his passion through his words. In addition, he had a strong desire to improve his surroundings and positively influence the people around him. This led to many accomplishments. Today we will see if those accomplishments had a positive effect on the Southern states by looking at: Carver’s study of natural elements; his education of the South’s population; and his discoveries of innovative food products.

George Washington Carver’s research of soil and clay helped the Southern people use their natural resources more effectively.  People in the South used cotton as a source of income, and often used cotton to buy merchandise.  Year after year white, fluffy cotton balls grew on most of the plantations in the South.  As a result the soil was depleted of the nutrients it needed, and it became very poor in quality.  In a biography of Carver by his friend Rackham Holt, Holt explained that when Carver came to the South he encouraged people to grow other plants besides cotton like peanuts, beans, and cowpeas.  Through his research he found that these products were easy to grow, gave the soil nutrients that the cotton had taken away, and were good tasting.  Carver also taught them to rotate their crops.  This allowed the soil to receive all the nutrients it needed. 

Carver believed there was a purpose for everything.  One morning while he was walking through the woods he describes that he saw:

“Vast deposits of multicolored clays, ranging from snow-white through many gradations to the richest sienna and Indian reds on the one hand, and from the deepest yellow-ocher to the palest cream tinting on the other.”

He thought these clays must be useful.  He discovered that by sifting the rocks and sand out of the clay and mixing it with water, the clay would make an inexpensive and easy to produce paint. By adding an extract from rotten sweet potatoes to yellow clay Carver made a soft green color. In total he made 27 different shades of paint. Since most of the farmhouses in the South were in need of repair, these clays were perfect for preserving and improving the appearance of the homes.  It also provided a way for the owner to have pride in their home, and gave them a reason to take better care of it.  Through George Washington Carver’s research of soil and clay he had a positive effect on the Southern states.

The knowledge that Carver acquired through research he taught to the South’s population in several ways.  In 1896 Carver arrived at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as the agricultural director.  Tuskegee Institute was the very first college for African Americans.  Until slavery was abolished in 1864, many slaves were dependent on their masters so they didn’t know how to rely on themselves.  Some of the things Carver taught the students were how to grow alternative plants, how to use good farming techniques, and how to manage a home.  Many students loved Carver’s teaching.  For example Holt states that among the many Bible studies at Tuskegee, Carver’s was the most attended, even though it was voluntary. One of the teachers at the Tuskegee Bible School protested Carver’s bible study to the principle, who replied: “Well, if anyone at this institution can have a class in the Bible which is not compulsory and well attended for three years, I advise you to say nothing and not in any way disturb it, because we have to compel students to attend most such classes”

Carver passed on his teaching ability to his students. In 1906, he designed a wagon equipped with demonstration items, ranging from a hand churn to a two-horse steel-beam plow.  It traveled to a farmer’s house and Carver’s students from Tuskegee would teach the farmers in the area, and their wives, how to use the demonstration tools, how to fertilize their soil, how to cook and preserve their vegetables and various other helpful techniques. Over time Tuskegee employed more and more wagons.

In addition to teaching at Tuskegee and instituting the demonstration wagon, Carver wrote educational bulletins.  These bulletins cost between 10 and 25 cents, and taught a wide variety of topics, from “The raising of hogs,” to “How to grow the peanut, and 105 ways to prepare it for human consumption.” He wrote 44 such bulletins in all. They were very detailed and anyone would find it easy to understand the steps given in the bulletin.  Carver published these bulletins during the 46 years that he worked at Tuskegee.  Carver’s devotion to teaching the Southern people helped them become more independent.

Carver also discovered innovative uses for alternative crops.  Very few food items had been grown in the South up to this time.  The cotton crops were in danger because of the boll weevil, a tiny insect that eats cotton.  Carver had warned the farmers about these destructive insects, and told them to grow different plants like sweet potatoes and peanuts that would not be destroyed by boll weevils. Very few farmers listened to him and as a result their fields were devastated, but the ones who heeded his advice had prosperous fields. However, there wasn’t a big market for sweet potatoes and peanuts, so Carver discovered amazing new uses for them.  According to Graham and Lipscomb’s biography of Carver, he made 118 different sweet potato products which includes: candy of 14 varieties, tapioca, starch, shoe blacking, and flour.  During World War I Tuskegee was saving over 700 pounds of flour each year by mixing sweet potato flour with wheat flour. Not only did it save flour for the troops, but many found it better tasting.  Carver also discovered 300 varieties of peanut products. Some of them may seem unlikely, for example, laundry soap, mock chicken, and ice cream. Others are more common like salted peanuts, and cooking oil. Carver is even credited with the invention of peanut butter, one of America’s most loved foods to this day.  The sweet potato and peanut helped provide food and a source of income for the Southern people.

After a long life of great discoveries George Washington Carver died on January 5th 1943 at the age of 79. Carver’s analysis of soil and clay, his teaching at Tuskegee and in the community, and his formulation of products made out of sweet potatoes and peanuts had a positive effect on the South.  His research resulted in the improvement of the South’s soil and homes.  By sharing his knowledge Carver helped the former slaves to rely on themselves.  Finally, Carver’s original food products helped give the South income and sustenance.  Carver used his available resources to develop a better South. As George Washington Carver said himself,

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”

<www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/g/george_washington_carver.html>, accessed January 20, 2012.

<www.tuskegee.edu>, accessed January 20, 2012.

Collins, David. Man’s Slave Becomes God’s Scientist, George Washington Carver. 1981.
Holt, Rackham. George Washington Carver, An American Biography. 1943.

Shirley Graham, George D Lipscomb. Dr. George Washington Carver, Scientist. 1944.

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