George Washington Carver (c. 1864 - January 5, 1943)
Today we celebrate George Washington Carver Day! January 5th has been a national holiday since 1946 following congressional action to honor this legendary scientist, educator, leader, and Sweet Potato maestro! He was also appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the economic savior of southern agriculture, which he succeeded at and was later awarded for. We honor the day of his passing, as his birth date is not known. His impacts echo today and are certainly not recognized widely enough or with the esteem he deserves. We’re sharing this piece about a botanist we adore to help you learn more! With our obvious bent towards his Sweet Potato work, there is truly an impressive array of other areas he advanced as well. Check out the references below to keep learning, which includes our current Sweetness book club selection, “The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race,” where he is mentioned in the section on “The Black Agrarian Movement,” check it out and check back for a virtual discussion on it!
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Born into slavery in 1864, he was the first Black student at Iowa State in 1891, completing a Master of Science in Agricultural Science. He was then recruited by Booker T. Washington for the Agriculture Faculty at Tuskegee University in Alabama. He sought to serve “the man farthest down.” He taught self-sufficiency and ecological conservation to children of former slaves, growing soil-enriching crops such as Sweet Potatoes, Peanuts, and Soybeans.
From his start at Tuskegee until World War 1, Black-owned farms in Macon County, AL grew from 150 in 1896 to 500+ by 1914 before the start of World War I. Nationally, 14% of all farms were Black-owned in 1910. Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination in the USDA loans and subsidies that came after WWI and after the Great Depression effectively reversed this, to 1.4% nationally in 2017 Black farm ownership.
Dr. Carver continued experimenting, inventing, and finding ways to support “the man farthest down,” with contributions that are still among the most important and widely discussed topics today.
- Topsoil Management and Cover Crop Practices
- Organic Fertilizing and Composting Techniques
- Managing Soil with Adverse Weather and Sand
- Researching Wild Plants as Food and Medicine
- Sustainable Economic Growth Practices for Farmers
- Pasture-Raising Cows to Help Soil Fertility
- Practices for Teaching Nature Studies in Schools
- Mycology and Plant Disease Research
- Chemurgy Contributions (industrial uses for organic products, ex. his soy-based alternatives to plastic)
- Launching the American Peanut Industry
- 300+ Novel Peanut Uses
- 100+ Novel Sweet Potato Uses (!!)
- Having an influence through Tuskegee on the 1999 NASA experiments on Sweet Potato growth in space! [there were no adverse effects on them]
... and much more!
On Sweet Potatoes
"There are but few if any of our staple farm crops, receiving more attention than the sweet potato, and indeed rightfully so. The splendid service it rendered during the great World War in the saving of wheat flour, will not soon be forgotten. The 99 different and attractive products (to date) made from it, are sufficient to convince the most skeptical that we are just beginning to discover the real value and marvelous possibilities of this splendid vegetable.”
George Washington Carver, 1922Tuskegee Institute Experiment Station Bulletin #38 "How the Farmer Can Save His Sweet Potatoes and Ways of Preparing It for the Table”
Uses for Sweet Potatoes!
Candy, 14 varieties
Dried Potatoes #1, #2
Breakfast Food #5
Meal (3) and (4)
After Dinner Mints #1, #2, and #3
Spiced Vinegar Stock Feed
Coffee, dry Instant
Library Paste (5)
Fillers for Wood (14)
Paper (from vines)
“George Washington Carver” Tuskegee.edu
“George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Life” Iowa PBS Documentary on YouTube
“Special History Study: Natural History Related to George Washington Carver National Monument” National Parks Service 2005, NPS.gov
“The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers” 2013, NationalAGLawcenter.org
“Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement” by Monica M. White, 2019
“The Earth, the City, the Hidden Narrative of Race” by Carl Anthony, 2017
1 - George Washington Carver Vector - Free License / Pixabay.
2 - George Washington Carver as a student of Iowa State College. Special Collections and University Archives / Iowa State University Library / public domain.
3 - George Washington Carver in his element at Tuskegee Institute in 1906. Library of Congress / public domain.