GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER: AN EARLY BLACK HERO
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
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.
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