09 July 2018

A brilliant and remarkable man


Excerpts from his Wikipedia page:
George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Diamond Grove... Missouri, some time in the early-mid 1860s... His master, Moses Carver, was a German American immigrant who had purchased George's parents... After slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own children...

He homesteaded a claim near Beeler, where he maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers and a geological collection. He manually plowed 17 acres (69,000 m2) of the claim, planting rice, corn, Indian corn and garden produce, as well as various fruit trees, forest trees, and shrubbery. He also earned money by odd jobs in town and worked as a ranch hand... His art teacher, Etta Budd, recognized Carver's talent for painting flowers and plants; she encouraged him to study botany at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames. When he began there in 1891, he was the first black student...

In 1896, Booker T. Washington, the first principal and president of the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), invited Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver taught there for 47 years, developing the department into a strong research center and working with two additional college presidents during his tenure. He taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency.

Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. Together with other agricultural experts, he urged farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils by practicing systematic crop rotation: alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes or legumes (such as peanuts, soybeans and cowpeas)... In addition, he founded an industrial research laboratory, where he and assistants worked to popularize the new crops by developing hundreds of applications for them...
Carver died January 5, 1943, at the age of 78 from complications resulting from a fall.
I first read about him in one of the classic Landmark books back in the 1950s.   He seemed to be part of such a remote history that I was surprised recently to find this colorized photograph of him from 1942.

Colorization credit (many other impressive photos there).  Via.

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