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"At Iowa State, George spent many hours poised over plant specimens or walking through the woods, discovering that 'each created thing is an indispensable factor in the great whole, and one in which no other factor will fit exactly as well.' Doing his classwork with the used pencil stubs given to him by friends, and subsisting on leftovers from the school cafeteria, George studied incessantly, earning a Master's Degree in five years. By 1896, he had acquired a reputation as the best plant breeder at Iowa and knew that his position on the permanent faculty of the University was guaranteed"



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Home » Lives of Spiritual Unfolding » George Washington Carver: Scientist and Teacher

George Washington Carver: Scientist and Teacher

At Simpson College, George continued to suffer the hardships to which he had grown accustomed. He lived in an abandoned shack, given to him by the President of the College, and salvaged a stove from the dump to cook his meals, which he would eat while sitting on an old crate. Yet the other students of the college, all of whom were white, looked up to George as a model of humor and kindness, visiting him and asking advice on matters both academic and personal. He accepted the indignities of racial prejudice without responding with bitterness, and would later be remembered for little acts of selflessness like crossing to the other side of the street so his white woman friends would not have to greet him publicly. These incidents caused George much grief, and he bore them with quiet resignation.

At Simpson College, George dived into art with a passion, and he showed an undeniable brilliance in his painting. He would continue to paint throughout his long life, exhibiting his artwork in both the North and the South, and more than one close friend received an original painting as a treasured gift. But despite his love for art, which he called a means to lift "souls beyond the sordid things of life," George Washington Carver felt unable to commit his life to it. He felt that he could neither earn his living at it, nor really satisfy himself through art alone. Seeking a more practical degree in agricultural science, he transferred to the Iowa Agricultural College at Ames in 1891.

At Iowa State, George spent many hours poised over plant specimens or walking through the woods, discovering that "each created thing is an indispensable factor in the great whole, and one in which no other factor will fit exactly as well." Doing his classwork with the used pencil stubs given to him by friends, and subsisting on leftovers from the school cafeteria, George studied incessantly, earning a Master's Degree in five years. By 1896, he had acquired a reputation as the best plant breeder at Iowa and knew that his position on the permanent faculty of the University was guaranteed.

But George Carver could not choose for himself the life of a cloistered University professor. In 1896, Booker T. Washington asked him to join the faculty of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college established with the aim of educating the blacks of the South so they could leave the endless cycle of ignorance and poverty. George felt that this was the opportunity to serve his people for which he had been preparing his entire life.

Booker T. Washington, the son of a mulatto slave and a white man, had worked himself through school as a coal miner and later as a janitor, and in his early twenties had begun to work with the Virginia-based Hampton Institute as a teacher of vocational education to colored Americans. He had founded Tuskegee in 1881, at the age of 24, on the conviction that the integration of blacks into a dominant white society depended on their ability to become a competitive economic force. He felt that the capacity of blacks to "endure wrong, to withstand temptations, to economize, to acquire and use skill" could be honed through diligent mental and manual work.

At Tuskegee, George quickly confronted the awesome responsibilities that his office would entail. In charge of directing the Institute's Experiment Station, administering the farm's livestock, maintaining the landscaping of the school grounds, teaching and supervising courses, and performing all of the tasks required as Department head, George often found himself stretched to the limit of his endurance. He quickly discovered that other faculty members did not share his enthusiasm for his way of doing things, and he entered into heated battles with at least one other administrator who refused to obey his orders. He suffered immensely from these encounters, which injured his sense of pride and held up his work. Yet he pursued his responsibilities with vigor, refusing to give in to the despair to which he could easily have fallen prey.

As a researcher, George tried to find economical ways for the "man lowerest down" to improve the quality of his life. The typical "black belt" farmer had only his land and his labor with which to work, and George concentrated on reducing the farmers' economic dependence on store-bought goods by finding alternatives to flour, sugar, starch, coffee, milk, and other household goods. He developed hundreds of recipes for the peanut, sweet potato, and cowpea, from which the poor farmer could derive the essential nutrients he required, and he found ways to convert common soil into whitewashes and woodstains which could work wonders on the walls of a house. He also developed more efficient methods of crop cultivation and experimented with breeding strains of cotton which resisted the devastation of the Southern boll weevil.

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