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In an era when men of color such as Martin Luther King are revered, and are respected

by many outside the African American community as well as by their fellow Blacks, it’s

easy to overlook some of the earlier notable Black heroes. George Washington Carver

is one such who comes to mind. In this, Black History Month, let’s take a look back at

Carver, who was born sometime in the 1860s and left this earth on January 5, 1943.

An agricultural scientist and inventor, he worked to promote alternative crops to cotton

and methods to prevent soil depletion, a problem that resulted from repeated plantings

of cotton. It was the concept held by Carver, a professor at Tuskeegee Institute, that

poor farmers could grow alternative crops that not only would give the soil a rest from

cotton but would feed the farmers and their families. For this he suggested peanuts and

sweet potatoes. Carver published 44 practical bulletins for farmers; the most popular of

these contained 105 recipes that utilized peanuts.

George Washington Carver was a leader in promoting environmentalism and received

many honors for his work. At a time when Whites didn’t have much to do with Blacks

who weren’t either servants or entertainers, Carver became well-known outside the

Black community. Time even referred to Carver as a Black Leonardo, in a 1941 issue of

the magazine.

He formed any number of companies to market his products. Unfortunately, none was

particularly successful. Most sold products that were peanut based and ranged from

patent medicine to hair care products to massage oil. He did not, however, invent

peanut butter, although often mistakenly credited with that achievement.

What he did achieve, however, was notable.

Aside from his work with peanuts, Carver also worked with sweet potatoes and the

development of sweet potato products, including 73 dyes, 17 wood fillers, 14 candies,

five library pastes, five breakfast foods, four starches, four flours, and three types of

molasses, as well as vinegars, a dry coffee and an instant coffee, candy, after-dinner

mints, orange drops, and lemon drops.

"George Washington Carver" by TradingCardsNPS is licensed under CC by 2.0

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