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Today’s GLBT History Month Icon: Scientist George Washington Carver

Today’s GLBT History Month Icon: Scientist George Washington Carver

Today’s GLBT History Month icon is George Washington Carver, 1864 – 1943, a botanist and agricultural scientist who faced overt racism and many social challenges but rose above them to triumph in his career.

From Equality Forum:

George Washington Carver was a groundbreaking agricultural scientist, known for discovering innovative uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and clay.

A black man born during the Civil War, Carver overcame racism to establish himself as a preeminent scientist and renowned academic.

Carver was born a slave in southwest Missouri. As an infant, he was kidnapped by slave raiders, and then abandoned when they discovered he suffered from whooping cough. His mother’s former owners, Moses and Susan Carver, adopted and raised him.

At the age of 13, Carver left home to attend a school for African-Americans. In 1890, he matriculated to Simpson College in Iowa, where he was the only black student. In 1891, he transferred to Iowa State College to focus on his passion for agriculture.

After graduating, he served as the only black member of the Iowa State faculty. Carver was invited to head the agriculture department at the Tuskegee Institute, a university for black students founded by Booker T. Washington.

As a professor, Carver encouraged students to think creatively and independently. He emphasized selfsufficiency and resilience, and he pursued broad interests, including painting and religion.

Throughout his life, he maintained a positive approach. Even in the face of overt racism, Carver said, “I can’t do my work if my heart is bitter.”

Carver is best known for his advances in the agricultural field. He devised and taught impoverished farmers uses for nutritious, commonly grown crops. He was the first scientist to discover multiple uses for peanuts, developing products as diverse as flour, ink and face cream.

He experimented with developing rubber from the sweet potato. Carver’s discoveries are seen as the basis for many products, including biofuels and fruitbased cleaning products.

In 1916, Carver was offered membership in the Royal Society of London. In 1923, he was awarded a Spingarn Medal by the NAACP. Simpson College awarded him an honorary degree in 1932.

Carver is said to have enjoyed an intimate relationship with his male assistant Austin W. Curtis, Jr., a Cornell graduate in chemistry who taught at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. This companionship, as it was perceived at the time, helped Carver to continue working in his later years.

From GLBTQ.com:

In 1943, Rackham Holt described the relationship between the two men: “At last someone had been welcomed not merely into Dr. Carver’s laboratory, but also into his heart. He believed that there was something providential in the coming of this young man, so intensely serious about his work and extremely competent at it, who was at the same time a genial companion; he was proud of him and loved and depended on him as his own son . . . . And the affection was returned in full measure. Mr. Curtis accompanied him everywhere, seeing to his comfort, shielding him from intrusion, and acting as his official mouthpiece.”

Holt also noted that Carver “would tuck his hand into the arm of ‘my dear boy’” when the two set off to inspect experiments.

In likening the rapport between them to that of a father and son, Holt was echoing Carver’s own, possibly guarded, words.

Deeply religious, Carver believed that his intellect and the discoveries he made were all gifts from God. His religious beliefs put him at odds with some in the scientific community who felt that his perceived irrational faith could detract from his considerable achievements.

As part of his legacy, Carver left behind the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee, which he funded with his life savings in 1940 so that the research center could continue his work. In addition to this, Carver’s name appears frequently in academic circles, with several institutions like the Carver Hall of Iowa State University and the Carver Science Building at Simpson College bearing his name.

Perhaps most widely known, however, is the George Washington Carver National Monument which incorporates several buildings from Carver’s former estate, several exhibits and assorted nature trails.

Carver’s epitaph reads, “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

Related Resources:

For a more detailed overview of George Washington Carver’s life, please click here.

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28 comments

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12:34PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

Although this was a very interesting article. is history being bent to suggest as homosexual relationship between these two men? The possibility appears so, but there is no evidence. The same goes foe Eleanor Roosevelt.

4:58AM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

Have just re-read article, which might suggest gay. But then people read into the Old Testament reltionships of David & Jonathan as gay, too. Are we looking for this where it doesn't REALLY exist?

4:55AM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

I thought LGBT was to do with Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans-sexuals, not racism. Very glad to honour this black man, but was his sexual orientation 'other'?
Interesting article, tho.

11:09PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

Thanks for the article. What I'd like to know is why are we repeating articles. We use to see 15 articles/day, now it seems we have 25, 30 or more a day. I don't know about the rest of you but I don't want to spend my entire life on the computer. But I do value those butterflies.

12:28PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

Why does history have to be confined to a month or two? It should be taught everyday, all year round. We can always learn from the past and look forward to the future.

7:38AM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

What a generous man. Amazing how he never lost faith in what he did. "Turning the other cheek" so to speak. Really enjoying this series of articles on these individuals being honored this year during the LGBT month.

8:33PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

This was a really cool article...thank you so much for posting it!

7:48PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

We must thank Mr. Carver for giving forth his kowledge to us and improving our world so vastly.

JO

3:47PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

Interesting man

1:35PM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

Monica K.
I notice my daughter in her 40s and grandson in his teens living in LA don't label in any way. I get excited by the labels that give me a clue as to how a person might look, think, believe, etc., especially during active therapist times, but understand your wish to end all qualifiers. As an old bat, I'm delighted to learn this man was gay, was partnered, overcame horrific racism and abuse to triumph. Very inspiring. Thanks for this! (BTW I was taught by an expert that the second step after unquestioned isms is to believe "It doesn't matter." The next step is to celebrate our differences.) Who knows? May we all be kinder to ourselves and each other.

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