George Washington Carver National Monument Established (1943)

The founding of this national monument provides an opportunity to discuss the life and accomplishments of George Washington Carver, pioneering African-American plant scientist and conservationist.

George Washington Carver in 1910 (photo from Tuskegee University Archives, restored by Adam Cuerden)

            Carver was born during the Civil War, but the date is unknown—because he was a slave.  He and his family lived and worked on the farm of Moses Carver (hence, his last name), a Missouri farm that grew mostly cotton.  After slavery was abolished, Carver continued to live on the farm for several years.  The Moses family cared for the sickly boy, never expecting him to live past his teen years. Carver later wrote, “…my body was very feble and it was a constant warfare between life and death to see who would gain the mastery.”

            The young Carver reveled in nature.  “Day after day,” he said, “I spent in the woods alone in order to callect my floral beauties…”  He had the proverbial green thumb, musing that “strange to say all sorts of vegetation seemed to thrive under my touch until I was styled the plant doctor….  At this time I had never heard of botany and could scerly read.”

The Jessup Wagon, designed and built by Carver to provide mobile education to Alabama farmers (photo by Alabama Cooperative Extension Service)

            He did learn to read.  For two decades, he roamed around Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, earning a living however he could and attending whatever school was nearby.  He eventually landed at what is now Iowa State University, graduating with both B.S. and M.S. degrees in agricultural sciences in his 30s.  He served as an agricultural teacher there before heading to the Tuskegee Institute in 1896.

            At Tuskegee, he led the new agriculture program and developed the innovations for which he is famous.  Realizing that more than a century of cotton farming had depleted the Alabama soils, Carver taught farmers to plant soil-nourishing crops of peanuts and soybeans.  He performed research on the university’s experimental farm, developing more than 300 products from peanuts and 100 from sweet potatoes, basically establishing both plants as the major crops they are today.  He designed and built the “Jessup Wagon,” a mobile classroom that he took around Alabama to demonstrate new techniques and crops to farmers.  To accompany his tours, he wrote simple booklets for farmers, the precursor of today’s “extension bulletins.” He taught methods to reduce soil erosion and improve soil productivity, rejuvenating southern agriculture.

Carver holding soil from an experimental field (photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston)

            Carter was a humble and spiritual man.  His critics saw him as capitulating to white dominance in the South, but Carter cared nothing for politics and strife.  As Tuskegee describes him, “Always modest about his success, he saw himself as a vehicle through which nature, God and the natural bounty of the land could be better understood and appreciated for the good of all people.”  He is considered one of America’s greatest agricultural leaders, and when he died in 1943, it took only months for the U.S. to create a national monument of his birthplace.

            The monument itself is noteworthy.  It encompasses the entire 240-acre Moses farm in the far southwestern corner of Missouri.  It was the first birthplace memorial in the National Park Service not honoring a U.S. president.  And it was the first national park unit to celebrate the life of an African-American.  The congressional hearings to establish the monument included this homage to Carver:

“Occasionally there moves across the stage of time a historic figure, a creative teacher, a profound thinker, a humble servant, or an inspiring teacher. George Washington Carver was all of these. The memorial we create only indicates to the world that once there was a man named George Washington Carver, whose life was a source of inspiration to all men, a pillar of hope to his race, a fountain of service to his fellows, a tower of devotion to his God; and that this man achieved a worthy and enduring stature in the memories of men.”

Amen to that.

References:

Encyclopedia Britannica.  George Washington Carver.  Available at:  https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Washington-Carver. Accessed March 25, 2020.

National Park Service.  George Washington Carver National Monument.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/places/george-washington-carver-national-monument.htm. Accessed March 25, 2020.

National Park Service.  George Washington Carver National Monument, History & Culture.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/gwca/learn/historyculture/index.htm. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Tuskegee Institute.  The Legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver.  Available at:  https://www.tuskegee.edu/support-tu/george-washington-carver. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Williams, Wendi.  2020.  The Jessup Wagon:  Rooted in History, Still Used Today.  Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, February 6, 2020.  Available at:  https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/news/the-jesup-wagon-rooted-in-history-still-used-today/.  Accessed March 25, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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