Jottings From Jazianzza The Genius of George Washington Carver

Greetings to everyone from Jazianzza and me, and welcome to our journey with the newly published Bee-Coming Strong.

One of the enduring gifts of my childhood came from my grandfather’s love of reading. In his library I found a biography of George Washington Carver written for children that left a deep imprint on my life. Carver’s mystical relationship with nature informed his long career as a distinguished scientist. Reading what Carver wrote about God speaking to him through the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms inspired my own immersion in nature and openness to its messages. What I learned from Carver’s life about the brutal history of slavery into which he was born seared my mind. How could human beings see and treat other human beings in such inhuman ways?

In 1864, just before the end of the Civil War, Carver was born in Missouri to Mary who was owned by Moses and Susan Carver. He and his mother were stolen from the Carvers and sold in Kentucky. The baby was found and returned to the Carvers, but his mother was never located. A tiny, frail baby, George grew to be an awkward, stammering, but extremely clever boy who was able to commune with nature profoundly.

He wanted to know everything about nature and soon became the plant doctor for all the neighbors who had problems growing something. He learned about the plants by listening to them, studying the soil they were in, and intuiting the remedy to the problem. This became his signature mode throughout his life…listening to nature, befriending whatever it was he was contemplating, and paying attention to the answers he received. His approach sparked my curiosity about nature and how everything relates.

After the Civil War, George stayed under the care of Moses and Susan who home-schooled him and brought him to their non-denominational church. He learned to play the church piano and sang hymns. When he was eight or nine years old, he later wrote, “God just came into my heart one afternoon while I was alone in the loft of our big barn, shelling corn to carry to the mill to be ground into meal.” [William Federer, George Washington Carver: His Life and Faith in His Own Words]

Despite all the challenges he encountered growing up in a racist society, he became one of the leading scientists of his time. Supported by his deep relationship with God, he became a noted humanitarian, artist, poet, botanist, and conservationist. Booker T. Washington invited Carver to come to Tuskegee Institute where he served as a professor for 50 years. 

He saw the devastation that slavery had wrought on his people and the crushing poverty created by the continuous farming of cotton alone which depleted the soil’s nutrients. Carver found that the boll weevil, about to come to their state, didn’t like peanuts. Although he didn’t invent peanut butter as many have suggested, he discovered over 300 uses for the peanut and thus encouraged both Black and White sharecroppers to plant peanuts as well as sweet potatoes to bring back the health of the soil and earn a viable living.

He made his discoveries using scientific principles, close observation, and listening. “All my life,” he said, “I have risen regularly at four o’clock and have gone into the woods and talked with God. There He gives me my orders for the day. Alone there with things I love most, I gather specimens and study the great lessons Nature is so eager to teach us all. When people are still asleep, I hear God best and learn my plan.”

“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it, I talk to the Infinite. And what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn’t the outer physical contact. No, it isn’t that. The infinite is not confined in the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”

If we could all relate to nature and to one another as George Washington Carver did, we would be living in an entirely different world. Jazianzza encourages us to all aim for that beautiful goal. She also wants me to tell you that he was influential in growing the beekeeping at Tuskegee! He knew how critical bees are to plant life.

Here’s a short video for children to be able to learn about him.

Lastly, if you’re interested, we did another podcast, this time with Reading with Your Kids

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