George Washington Carver…does this name sound familiar? Perhaps his research into the lowly peanut strikes a chord for you? It is so easy to associate botany with Dr. Carver since he spent his entire life studying it, teaching it, and developing a vast array of products that have benefited you and me to this very day!
Driving near Joplin in southern Missouri there is a national monument literally dozens of miles off the beaten track that memorializes Dr. Carver. This sacred place was his boyhood home. Here he was born and raised as a slave by Moses Carver a “benevolent” slaveowner. Early on George’s was a sickly child. He drew physical and emotional health by interacting with nature. He loved to roam about the farm and the adjacent woods; and to investigate the creek that meandered through the property constantly searching for answers about the flora and fauna.
His upbringing fostered his passion for botany and led to his education as a painter and a scientist. He was comfortable painting floral still-lifes, yet during his lifetime he also discovered over 300 uses for the peanut–my favorite being peanut butter–crunchy of course.
Dr. Carver had the patina of a gentleman farmer. And like many a farmer his core beliefs were directly linked to his maker from whom he derived his dream” to be the greatest good to the greatest number of my people”. Dr. Carver wanted to develop the means for aiding others who sought self-sufficiency and he pursued this goal with a quiet and steely zeal. He rarely filed for patents on his discoveries believing his work belonged to everyone: he preferred spending time teaching or in the lab. His ego was tamed by a humility rarely seen today.
Visiting his boyhood home and having an opportunity to put “flesh on his bones” is a moving experience that challenges every notion about the human condition. It is a paradox that a slave could achieve so much through the power of love and the courage that this instills. Strong in spirit he gave much more than he received. His capacity for overcoming adversity was immense and it was pursued with a peaceful vigor that made Dr. Carver a genuine American hero. Greater love than this hath no man.