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Black History Month Adoption Stories: George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was born in slavery in Diamond, Missouri and later adopted by Moses and Susan Carver. His adoption came after his sister and mother were kidnapped by night raiders. Moses negotiated with the raiders for George’s return. Moses and Susan raised George along with his older brother James as their own children.

George was accepted to Highland University in Kansas, but was refused education when he arrived, due to his race. He eventually went on to study art and piano at Simpson College in Iowa and botany at Iowa State Agricultural College. He received a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Iowa State and then his master of science. He became the first black faculty member at Iowa State.

In 1896, Carver was invited by Booker T. Washington to head the agriculture department at Tuskegee Institute. He taught at Tuskegee for 47 years. During this time he taught methods of crop rotation, introduced alternative cash crops for farmers, and taught generations of black students farming techniques to help make them self-sufficient.

Carver became famous for his techniques to improve the soils that were depleted by repeated planting of cotton. He found that using alternate crops like sweet potatoes and legumes would restore the nitrogen to the soil through what’s now referred to as crop rotation.

He became a prominent figure and was admired publicly by President Theodore Roosevelt. Subsequently, the United Peanut Associations of America invited Carver to speak at their 1920 convention where he exhibited 145 peanut products. In 1921, based on the quality of his presentation, he was asked to testify on new tariffs that farmers were lobbying for due to the undercutting of their prices from imported peanuts. At this time, it was highly unusual for an African-American to appear in front of Congress as an expert witness. The tariff was passed.

Carver became a Christian as a young boy. Due to failing health, he was not expected to live past his 21st birthday. When he lived longer than expected, his belief in God deepened. He viewed his faith in Jesus as a means to destroy barriers of social stratification and racial disharmony. He even led Bible class on Sundays while teaching at Tuskegee.

He is known to this day as one of the most prominent scientists of the early twentieth century and a leader in promoting environmentalism.


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