(discussed on Blog Talk Radio show January 6, 2023, download and forward to 1 hr 28 min into the show)
George Washington Carver was born an enslaved person in the 1860s in Missouri. The exact date of his birth is unclear, but some historians believe it was around 1864, just before slavery was abolished in 1865. In his early career, Carver was overshadowed by Booker T. Washington, the famed educator who successfully recruited him to teach at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Carver was a devotee of Booker’s teachings, and he believed that his agricultural research could help black farmers become more self-reliant. He wanted small Southern farms to become more sustainable and less reliant on cotton — the region’s dominant cash crop — for survival. The relationship between Booker T. Washington and Carver was a complicated one, in large part because the botanist was kind of a diva. He was beloved by his students, but he wasn’t a good administrator and he actively avoided the more mundane aspects of teaching. He regularly threatened to resign from Tuskegee, even though Booker extended him all kinds of privileges other faculty members didn’t enjoy, and regularly touted the young scientist’s intellect.
During one of his lectures, Dr. Carver described the conversation with God that got him started studying the peanut.
I asked, “Dear Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?”
The great Creator answered, “You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask something more your size.”
Then I asked, “Dear Creator, tell me what a man was made for.”
Again the great Creator replied, “Little man, you still ask too much. cut down the extent of your request and improve your intent.”
So then I asked, “Please, Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?”
“That’s better, but even then it’s infinite. What do you want to know about the peanut?”
“Mr. Creator, can I make milk out of the peanut?”
“What kind of milk do you want, good Jersey milk or just plain boarding-house milk?”
And then the great Creator taught me how to take the peanut apart and put it back together again.
Dr. Carver revolutionized the southern agricultural economy by showing that 300 products could be derived from the peanut (see https://www.tuskegee.edu/support-tu/george-washington-carver/carver-peanut-products). The National Peanut Board reports Dr. Carver’s works to include food products that ranged from “peanut lemon punch, chili sauce, caramel, peanut sausage, mayonnaise and coffee. Cosmetics included face powder, shampoo, shaving cream and hand lotion. Insecticides, glue, charcoal, rubber, nitroglycerine, plastics and axle grease are just a few of the many valuable peanut products discovered by Dr. Carver.” By 1938, peanuts had become a $200 million industry and a chief product of Alabama. Carver also demonstrated that 100 different products could be derived from the sweet potato.
Although he did hold three patents, Carver never patented most of the many discoveries he made while at Tuskegee, saying “God gave them to me, how can I sell them to someone else?”
Dr. Carver works included the development of agricultural derived adhesives, gasoline fuel, shaving cream, shampoos, hand lotions, insecticide, glue, bleach, sugar, synthetic rubber, and other innovations from natural agricultural resources. He devoted his life to understanding nature and the alternative uses of a simple plant. He is reported to have extracted medicines from weeds and through the separation of fats, oils, gums, resins and sugars. There are amazing discoveries yet to be found that God is waiting on someone to ask Him about. George Washington Carver is an excellent model for us of how God wants to speak to us.
Here are eight cardinal rules Dr. Carver gave for his students: