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In praise of George Washington Carver

Published 10:53pm Saturday, February 22, 2014

By Chris Quilpa

In celebration and observance of Black History Month, I would like to give thanks and pay tribute to all African-Americans who have served, sacrificed and died for our country fighting for our freedom and promoting and preserving peace, along with those who have made remarkable contributions to our world.

As an American of Asian/Filipino ancestry and having lived in the United States for more than 30 years, I feel fortunate to have read or learned something about some noted or outstanding Americans who have helped shape U.S. history. Reading others’ life stories can be enlightening and inspiring, and it enriches my knowledge and understanding of other peoples’ lives and their influences.

From my reading and research about African-Americans, I became interested in George Washington Carver, known variously as “King of the Peanut Gallery,” “The Plant Doctor,” “The Prof,” “The Peanut Scientist,” and “The Wizard of Tuskegee.” I find his life story fascinating and inspiring.

I am nuts for peanuts. Whether they’re boiled or roasted or fried, I just love them. And whenever I eat peanuts, I think about this great man.

Among the things that I respect about him are his humility, simplicity, intelligence, perseverance, creativity, and his strong determination to succeed against all odds, along with his unselfish desire to help others.

George Washington Carver was the second African-American honored in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. The first was Booker T. Washington.

Born around 1860 in Missouri, young George was one of two sons of slave parents whom he never knew. He and his brother, James, grew up with slave owners Susan and Moses Carver. “His “Aunt Susan” taught him to read and write.

Living on the farm, George Washington Carver became fascinated with plants and animals. His neighbors used to see him taking care of sick plants. Later, they called him “The Plant Doctor.”

When he was about 10, George left the Carvers and went to school. He lived with and worked for different families, while he studied his way through high school and, eventually, college.

Carver attended Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now Iowa State University) and studied plants and farming. In 1896, he graduated with a master’s degree.

Following his graduation, he was offered the chance to teach and be in charge of the greenhouses there. But he chose to teach and continued his research studies and experiments with peanuts at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama, an all-black school founded by Booker T. Washington, who encouraged Carver to work there.

Carver taught his students and the Southern farmers methods of soil improvement. He encouraged them to plant different crops in rotation, including peanuts.

He wrote books showing the many ways people could grow and use peanuts for human consumption. Out of his pioneering research and experiments on the different uses of peanuts, sweet potatoes and other crops, came such household items as shaving cream, soaps, breakfast cereals, ink and milk flour (all from peanuts), and such products as shoe polish and postage stamps, from sweet potatoes.

With the products he created out of peanuts and sweet potatoes, he could have made himself wealthy by patenting them in his name. But he just wanted to help improve the lives of the people in the South during his time.

In recognition of his accomplishments and contributions, Professor Carver was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1923 by the NAACP.

With no wife or children, George Washington Carver died on Jan. 5, 1943, in Tuskegee, Ala. All his savings went to the George Washington Carver Research Foundation in Tuskegee. The foundation allows students today to continue Carver’s legacy of creative research to help those in need.

CHRIS A. QUILPA, a Suffolk resident, is a retired U.S. Navy veteran. He maintains a blog at onebuddingpoet/writer-chris.blogspot.com. E-mail him at chris.a.quilpa@gmail.com.

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