Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Blog: The ability to carry on despite obstacles As many of you know, I love studying historical figures and people who have accomplished incredible things. It is always with the question in mind of how did they do that and how did they recognize their direction? George Washington Carver's story is a favorite of mine. It is compelling, interesting, and thought provoking See if you think so too. Carver started life with the handicap of being a slave. Yet he broke through the barriers that went with that position. Because of hard work, he advanced to become a great scientist. He became renown through his efforts in developing multiple uses for the peanut. As a result of his labor, he is given almost sole responsibility for the rise in US peanut production after the boll weevil devastated the American cotton crop in 1892. He literally saved the Southern farmer by creating adaptations and crops that would work in the depleted soil plus offered nutritious food to the farmers’ families. You will note that whenever Carver’s path seemed blocked by events or race prejudice, he found another way to continue his journey. He typifies flexibility, determination, and objectivity. He was always true to his purpose – education and botany – and maintained his focus without taking on the anger, resentment or smallness of prejudice – even for those who wanted to harm him. Here is his story. See if it inspires you as it has me. George Washington Carver was born a slave in the area now known as Diamond, Missouri in either 1864 or 1865. (The exact day and year of his birth are unknown). His master, Moses Carver, was a German American immigrant who had purchased George’s parents, Mary and Giles on October 9, 1855 for $700. When George was a week old, night raiders from Arkansas kidnapped him, a sister, and his mother. The outlaws sold the slaves in Kentucky. Wherein Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find them. He was only able to locate the infant, George. Moses negotiated with the raiders and gained the boy’s return. When slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own children. They encouraged George to continue his intellectual pursuits and Aunt Susan taught him the basics of reading and writing. Inasmuch as black people were not allowed at the public school in Diamond Grove, George traveled ten miles south to Neosho to the black children's school. When he arrived, the school was closed for the night so he slept in a near by barn. The next morning he met a kind woman, Mariah Watkins, with whom he asked to rent a room. When he identified himself as Carver’s George, as he had done his whole life, she replied that from now on his name was George Carver. Watkins words were, you must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people. This thought impressed him greatly. At age thirteen, he could attend the academy at Fort Scott, Kansas, where he witnessed the murder of a black man by a group of whites. As a result, Carver left the city. It followed that he attended a series of schools, finally earning his diploma at Minneapolis, Kansas High School. After graduation he was rejected admission to Highland College in Highland, Kansas because of his race. Consequently, in1886, Carver traveled to Ness County, Kansas to homestead a claim. There he maintained a small conservatory of plants, flowers and a geological collection. Carver was always drawn to education and botany. He attended Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa and Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames where he was the first black student. As a result of his research in plant pathology and mycology at the Iowa Experiment Station, he gained national recognition and respect as a botanist. This led to His being the first black faculty member at Iowa State. Later in 1896, Booker T Washington, the president of the Tuskegee Institute, invited Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver found a home there andf taught for 47 years developing the department into a strong research center. Carver’s hard work and research resulted in the development of hundreds of adaptations for the peanut. This allowed southern farmers to come back after the devastation of their main crop, cotton. When I read stories like this, I am awed by the person’s ability to look beyond his circumstances and find his way. Life most definitely bestows great blessings when we are ready to receive them. With fortitude and focus an unlikely individual in the person of a slave moved past all the incredible obstacles that faced him to become a renown scientist and supply the research that saved the very people who considered him less valuable than they were. Carver never participated in the prejudice that ruled the times in which he lived. This story puts things in perspective. 1) We have great opportunity today. 2) The prospect of exploring the wealth of our own minds, to make significant contributions and lead fulfilling lives is daunting. George Washington Carver is a wonderful example of what is possible when one chooses to survive challenge and conflict to follow his inherent path. Would the agricultural industry have received his knowledge had it not been devastaged by the boll weevol? I don’t know. Nevertheless, George Washington Carver looked beyond racial barriers and shared his gift with all who would receive it. What are your gifts? Are you willing to share them?