Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Original Mr. Peanut

Magnet # 434:  George Washington Carver Museum Peanut

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Welcome to George Washington Carver Day, which celebrates the life and accomplishments of this man, who was dubbed the "Black Leonardo" during his lifetime.  The event is held on the day Carver passed away in 1943, as no one is certain of his actual birth date.  He was born into slavery in Missouri, so no accurate record was kept regarding his early life.  But those were certainly interesting times.  He was owned by Moses Carver, a German immigrant who had purchased both of his parents in 1855, but within a week of his birth, George, his sister, and his mother were kidnapped by a band of night raiders from Arkansas who planned to sell them in Kentucky.  Moses Carver sent help to find them, and they were able to recover George, but his other family members were lost.  His father also died in an accident.  And after slavery came to an end, the Carvers kept George and his brother on, raising them as they might their own children, and teaching them to read and write.  George soon proved to have a keen mind, but attending schools and institutions was difficult for him, as he was often rejected because of his race.  After being turned away from Highland College even after he had received a scholarship there, he decided instead to homestead in Kansas for a time, plowing seventeen acres without the aid of domestic animals.  But by 1890, he was finally able to study at Iowa's Simpson College, where one of his professors realized he had a talent for botany.  On her recommendation, he transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College and was its first black.  It was there that he first called himself George Washington Carver, as another student had his same name, with the exception of his new middle name.  He earned his bachelor's degree in agriculture there as well as his master's degree and got his first taste of fame for the experiments he performed there.  In 1896, Carver relocated to Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, where he had been invited  by its founder, Booker T. Washington, to head the Agriculture Department.  He'd remain there for the rest of his life, 47 years in all.  Carver loved teaching, but he did encounter some difficulties there, as he was not very organized and was a poor administrator.  An absent-minded professor, he even had trouble remembering to pay his bills.  In fact, he and Washington even butted heads occasionally, as they were almost polar opposites, and Carver submitted a letter of resignation several times.  And while this side of his position exhausted him, he nonetheless managed to achieve great accomplishments in the laboratory, particularly after Washington passed away and his replacement eased up on the professor.  He became famous for finding all sorts of new uses for crops like sweet potatoes, soybeans, and pecans.  But it was his work with the peanut that truly defined him - all in all, he discovered more than 300 products it could be used to create.  He also found methods that poor Southern farmers could use to improve their lives, like crop rotation, and was very forthcoming with his results.  And he wanted to reach out to all rural farmers, regardless of their color.  Carver actually did a great deal to improve race relations, and to provide whites doubtful of black's intelligence and abilities that blacks were every bit as capable as they were.  He was actually the most famous black American during his time.  When he passed in 1943 after falling down a flight of stairs, as he had never married, he left his considerable savings to the Carver Museum and George Washington Carver Research Foundation.

Carver was so beloved by the nation that soon after his death, a movement began to establish a national monument in his honor, even though all non-war expenditures had been forbidden by a presidential order.  Regardless, Harry Truman, then a Missouri senator, sponsored a bill to create the George Washington Carver National Monument and it passed through both houses without one veto.  It was dedicated near Diamond, Missouri, where Carver had spent part of his childhood and was the first national monument that honored an African-American and a person who had not been president.  The site features the Moses Carver home and a museum.  Of course, Tuskegee Institute, now University, also features a museum dedicated to its most famous professor.  I visited the George Washington Carver Museum, which is run by the National Park Service, last year and had a very nice time there.  I was particularly impressed by Carver's paintings, which are on display there.  Not only do they show his considerable talent, they also feature paints Carver made himself.  He also dyed his own threads and and fibers with natural material and used them for knitting, crocheting, and needlework.  Carver was truly a Renaissance man and a inspiration for every American, rising up from slavery to achieve considerable accomplishments, and it's fitting that we still honor him today.

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