Time Magazine once called George Washington Carver a "Black Leonardo", a
title worthy of this great scientist, educator, botanist and inventor.
Carver was born in Diamond Grove,
Missouri, in January 1864, although
the exact date is unknown, and some evidence points to 1861. His slave
parents, Mary and Giles, were owned at the time by German American
immigrant Moses Carver.
Turmoil would soon prevail as not long after his birth, George along
with his Mother, were kidnapped by Confederates from Arkansas and sold
in Kentucky. Moses Carver moved to action, hiring a man named John
Bentley to find them. Fortunately for George, Bentley tracked him
down and Moses negotiated his return to Missouri with the ransom being a
race horse valued at $300. Unfortunately, George's mother Mary
Not long after his return to Missouri,
slavery ended for his family.
George was a sickly child, now orphaned, and Moses Carver and his wife
Susan took him and his brother under their wings. Due to his frailty,
Carver wasn't required to do the more laborious chores around the farm,
and spent a lot of time exploring nature, and tending the Carver's
gardens around the house. Flowers around the property flourished, and
when a visitor asked George how to make her own prettier, he responded
by telling her to "love them".
George's talent got him noticed around the small community of Diamond
Grove and people began calling him the Plant Doctor. He even made house
calls, prescribing remedies for sick plants or taking them into the
woods where he had a secret garden, nursing them back to health.
During this time, Susan Carver taught George how to read, since black
children were not allowed in the local schools. George had a thirst for
knowledge, so when he saw several black children going into a school
during a trip to Neosho 10 miles south, he immediately knew he had to
attend. Only 11 at the time, he told the Carver's that he was
going to move to Neosho to go to school, saying he would figure out how
to provide for himself using some of the knowledge he had gained through
Susan. The Carver's decided not to stop him, and George made his
His first night was spent in the loft of a barn near the school house.
The next morning, as George awaited the school to open, he met Mariah
Watkins, reportedly the owner of the home and barn where he had stayed.
He stated that he wanted to rent a room and identified himself as
"Carver's George", as he explained his intentions on going to the school
as a student. Carver later recalled that Watkins replied that from
now on his name was "George Carver". She also made an impression
on young George when she said "You must learn all you can, then go back
into the world and give your learning back to the people".
Carvers road through education winded through several schools. At
age 13 he wanted to attend an academy in
Kansas, but didn't
stay long after witnessing a group of whites
kill a black man. After
attending several other schools, Carver finally earned his diploma from
the Minneapolis Kansas High School.
Applying to several colleges, he was accepted at Highland College in
Highland, Kansas in 1886. His hopes of higher education were
immediately dashed upon arrival as the college rejected him due to his
race. From there he wound up in Ness County Kansas where he homesteaded
a claim. There he maintained a small conservatory of plants and
flowers along with a geological collection. He also maintained 17
acres of crops ranging from rice and corn to fruit trees, all while
earning money as a ranch hand and doing odd jobs in nearby Beeler.
He managed to get an education loan from the Bank of Ness City and left
there in 1890 to study art and piano at Simpson College in Indianloa,
Iowa. His art teacher, recognizing Carver's talent for painting
plants and flowers, encouraged him to study botany. He became the
first black student at Iowa State Agriculture College in Ames that next
his Bachelors Degree, a couple of his professors talked him into continuing
his education at Iowa State for his Masters. During this time he did
research at the Iowa Experimental Station, which gained him his first
national recognition and respect as a botanist.
"When our thoughts, which
bring actions, are filled with hate against anyone, Negro or white, we
are all in a living hell. That is as real as hell will ever be" - George