July 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, George Washington Carver

Carver was believed to have been born near the end of the Civil War, before slavery was
abolished in Missouri. I read that he was born in 1860, 1861, and 1864, in July, in January, or specifically on July 12. I also read that nobody knows for sure when he was born, and I believe that those informants are probably the most accurate.

Since a lot of sources claim his birthday as falling on this day, I imagine that Carver may have celebrated h
is birthday on July 12...but I wasn't able to confirm or refute this theory.

At any rate, George Washington Carver was born to a woman named Mary and—when he was just a tiny baby, only a week old—mother a
nd babe were stolen by “night raiders” from Arkansas, to be sold in Kentucky. The slave owner, Moses Carver, hired someone to find his “property” and negotiated for the return of the baby, but nobody could find George's mom.

When slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife raised both George and his older brother, teaching them to read and write and encouraging them to learn. Black children weren't allowed to go to school in that part of Missouri, but there was a school for black people ten miles away, and when George was about ten years old, he left “home” to go there. He stayed with a series of f
oster families while attending a series of schools and finally was able to go to college. He studied many subjects but ended up concentrating particularly on botany. In 1896 Carver was hired by Booker T. Washington to lead the Agriculture Department of Tuskegee Institute (later Tuskegee University). There Carver taught and did research.

Good thing
for all of us! Carver developed crops that could be planted in the south, which for too long was planted almost entirely with cotton. (The soil was depleted from growing just one thing year after year. Also, the boll weevil destroyed much of the cotton crop in the early twentieth century.) Carver promoted growing peanuts and sweet potatoes, and he was able to come up with hundreds of ways of using these foods, including around 100 recipes using peanuts and hundreds of products made from peanuts, including a milk substitute, adhesives, cosmetics, dyes, paints, and even plastics. He also worked on uses for soybeans and pecans.

Much of Carver's work focused on helping small farmers in the south, helping farmers diversify their crops, and e
ncouraging sustainable agriculture—you know, the kind of agriculture that environmental and food activists are still trying to urge on farmers who now devote acres and acres to the monoculture of corn!

Celebrate George Washington Carver!
  • Here is a printable coloring book about Carver.
  • Eat peanuts or peanut butter. Here are some recipes.

  • Read about George Washington Carver. There is also a slide show, puzzles, and other features here.

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