George Washington Carver
Why Did You Make The Peanut?
On an unrecorded date near
the end of the Civil War, George Washington Carver was born to a young slave girl named
Mary. Those who saw the weak and frail infant wondered if he would live. They had no way
of knowing one day he would grow to be one of the most influential men in American
While still a baby, George and his mother were abducted by southern supporters from the Carver farm where they lived. Moses Carver, who owned Mary, failed in his attempt to fight off the assailants. As a result, both were sold to different men. A friend of the Carvers mounted a search and found George. However, Mary could not be located. The child was returned to the farm where he was raised by Moses and his wife, Susan.
Before his birth, George's father died in a farming accident. An older brother, Jim, was his only known relative. Since they were childless, Moses and Susan Carver treated the boys as if they were their own.
Those who knew the younger Carver realized something was special about him. His love for nature and animals went beyond that of a child's normal curiosity. He loved to take long walks in the woods, a habit he continued throughout his life, collecting various insects and species of plants.
Carver once told his adoptive mother that he wanted to know all there was to know about everything. "When just a mere tot, my very soul thirsted for an education. I literally lived in the woods. I wanted to know every strange stone, flower, insect, bird, or beast. No one could tell me. My only book was an old Webster's Elementary Spelling Book. I would seek the answer here without satisfaction. I almost knew the book by heart."
He accepted Christ when he was ten years old. "God just came into my heart one afternoon while I was alone in the loft of our big barn." Kneeling beside a barrel of corn, he prayed for Christ to become his Savior. "That was my simple conversion, and I have tried to keep the faith," wrote Carver.
At fourteen, he left to attend the Lincoln School for Colored Children in Neosho, Missouri. After he received his diploma, he moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, where he entered high school.
In 1891, Carver enrolled in Simpson College to study piano and art. Later he transferred to Iowa State College, where he received a B.S. Degree in Agriculture. After receiving his Master of Agriculture, Carver joined the faculty of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, a trade school founded by Booker T. Washington.
His dream was to train and equip young black men and women so they could be a vital part of the American work force. Carver admittedly had found his calling in life. He remained on the Tuskegee faculty for forty-seven years where he helped to shape the lives of innumerable students. He wrote: "I want [my students] to find Jesus...How I long for each one to walk and talk with the Great Creator through the things He has created."
In 1921 Carver was asked to appear before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means regarding tariff on the peanut. Biographer Rupert Simms writes: "Southern farmers were pleading with congress for a tariff which would place an import duty on peanuts produced abroad with cheap labor. Fearing the devastation of their $200 million-a-year industry in peanuts, businessmen asked Carver to argue their case....His presentation was so impressive that Congress asked him to speak for one hour and forty-five minutes, rather than the customary ten, and they wrote the tariff into the bill."
Overcoming the severest of odds, poverty and slavery, Carver became one of the country's most respected agriculturists. In 1923 he received the Springarn Medal for Distinguished Service to Science, and in 1939 he was awarded the Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture.
For years farmers in the south planted cotton without rotating their crops. As a result, the soil became "worn out." Carver realized something had to be done or the farmers would lose their land. He suggested crop rotation and advised them to plant peanuts and sweet potatoes.
At first there wasn't a noticeable difference in farm economy. Farmers continued to lose money. Seeking God through prayer, Carver asked: "Mr. Creator, why did You make the peanut?"
God then led Carver to discover over 300 marketable products made from the peanut, including mayonnaise, cheese, shampoo, instant coffee, flour, soap, rubber, face powder, plastics, adhesives, axle grease, and pickles. From the sweet potato Carver discovered over 150 different uses including library paste, vinegar, starch, shoe blacking ink, and molasses.
Despite Carver's fame and achievements, racism was a constant reminder of the social ills that plagued his society. Though forced to ride on freight elevators and barred from many of the establishments his peers frequented, Carver refused to become bitter.
His love and trust in Christ helped him conquer the negative effects of poverty and racial prejudice. In the end, he earned the well-deserved respect and admiration of his peers and the grateful acknowledgment of future generations.