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BLKISH Forums African-American Inventors and Scientists Methods to Prevent Soil Depletion | George Washington Carver (Agricultural Scientist)

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  • Methods to Prevent Soil Depletion | George Washington Carver (Agricultural Scientist)

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    George Washington Carver (1860s[1] – January 5, 1943) was an American agricultural scientist and inventor who promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion.[2] He was the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century.

    While a professor at Tuskegee Institute, Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. He wanted poor farmers to grow other crops, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, as a source of their own food and to improve their quality of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts. Although he spent years developing and promoting numerous products made from peanuts, none became commercially successful.[3]

    Apart from his work to improve the lives of farmers, Carver was also a leader in promoting environmentalism.[4] He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. In an era of high racial polarization, his fame reached beyond the black community. He was widely recognized and praised in the white community for his many achievements and talents. In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a “Black Leonardo“.[5]

    Color film of Carver shot in 1937 at the Tuskegee Institute by African American surgeon Allen Alexander was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2019.[6][7]The 12 minutes of footage includes Carver in his apartment, office and laboratory, as well as images of him tending flowers and displaying his paintings. The film was digitized by The National Archives as part of its multi-year effort to preserve and make available the historically significant film collections of the National Park Service. It can be seen on the US National Film Archives YouTube channel. [1]

    Early years

    The farm house of Moses Carver (built in 1881), near the place where George Carver lived as a youth.

    Carver was born into slavery, in Diamond Grove (now Diamond), Newton CountyMissouri, near Crystal Place, sometime in the early or mid 1860s. The date of his birth is uncertain and was not known to Carver; but it was before slavery was abolished in Missouri, which occurred in January 1865, during the American Civil War. His master, Moses Carver, was a German American immigrant, who had purchased George’s parents, Mary and Giles, from William P. McGinnis on October 9, 1855, for $700.[8][1]

    When George was a week old, he, a sister, and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders from Arkansas. George’s brother, James, was rushed to safety from the kidnappers. The kidnappers sold the slaves in Kentucky. Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find them, but he found only the infant George. Moses negotiated with the raiders to gain the boy’s return, and rewarded Bentley. After slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife, Susan, raised George and his older brother, James, as their own children. They encouraged George to continue his intellectual pursuits, and “Aunt Susan” taught him the basics of reading and writing.[9]

    Black people were not allowed at the public school in Diamond Grove. George decided to go to a school for black children 10 miles (16 km) south, in Neosho. When he reached the town, he found the school closed for the night. He slept in a nearby barn. By his own account, the next morning he met a kind woman, Mariah Watkins, from whom he wished to rent a room. When he identified himself as “Carver’s George”, as he had done his whole life, she replied that from now on his name was “George Carver”. George liked Mariah Watkins, and her words “You must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people” made a great impression on him.[10]

    At age 13, because he wanted to attend the academy there, he moved to the home of another foster family, in Fort Scott, Kansas. After witnessing the killing of a black man by a group of whites, Carver left the city. He attended a series of schools before earning his diploma at Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.

    Rise to fame

    “One of America’s great scientists.” U.S. World War II poster circa 1943

    Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. Together with other agricultural experts, he urged farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils by practicing systematic crop rotation: alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes or legumes (such as peanutssoybeans and cowpeas). These crops both restored nitrogen to the soil and were good for human consumption. Following the crop rotation practice resulted in improved cotton yields and gave farmers alternative cash crops. To train farmers to successfully rotate and cultivate the new crops, Carver developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama that was similar to the one at Iowa State. To encourage better nutrition in the South, he widely distributed recipes using the alternative crops.

    Additionally, he founded an industrial research laboratory, where he and assistants worked to popularize the new crops by developing hundreds of applications for them. They did original research as well as promoting applications and recipes, which they collected from others. Carver distributed his information as agricultural bulletins.

    Peanut specimen collected by Carver

    Carver’s work was known by officials in the national capital before he became a public figure. President Theodore Roosevelt publicly admired his work. Former professors of Carver’s from Iowa State University were appointed to positions as Secretary of Agriculture: James Wilson, a former dean and professor of Carver’s, served from 1897 to 1913. Henry Cantwell Wallace served from 1921 to 1924. He knew Carver personally because his son Henry A. Wallace and the researcher were friends.[36] The younger Wallace served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, and as Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s vice president from 1941 to 1945.

    The American industrialist, farmer, and inventor William C. Edenborn of Winn ParishLouisiana, grew peanuts on his demonstration farm. He consulted with Carver.[37]

    In 1916, Carver was made a member of the Royal Society of Arts in England, one of only a handful of Americans at that time to receive this honor. Carver’s promotion of peanuts gained him the most notice. In 1919, Carver wrote to a peanut company about the potential he saw for peanut milk. Both he and the peanut industry seemed unaware that in 1917 William Melhuish had secured US 1243855, issued 1917-10-23 for a milk substitute made from peanuts and soybeans.[improper synthesis?]

    The United Peanut Associations of America invited Carver to speak at their 1920 convention. He discussed “The Possibilities of the Peanut” and exhibited 145 peanut products. By 1920, the U.S. peanut farmers were being undercut by low prices on imported peanuts from the Republic of China.

    In 1921, peanut farmers and industry representatives planned to appear at Congressional hearings to ask for a tariff. Based on the quality of Carver’s presentation at their convention, they asked the African-American professor to testify on the tariff issue before the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Due to segregation, it was highly unusual for an African American to appear as an expert witness at Congress representing European-American industry and farmers. Southern congressmen, reportedly shocked at Carver’s arriving to testify, were said to have mocked him.[citation needed] As he talked about the importance of the peanut and its uses for American agriculture, the committee members repeatedly extended the time for his testimony. The Fordney–McCumber Tariff of 1922 was passed including one on imported peanuts. Carver’s testifying to Congress made him widely known as a public figure.

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