It might have been at a Scholastic Book Fair in fourth grade. It definitely was back in my days of the Scholastic Weekly Reader that I bought a paperback biography of George Washington Carver. That was almost 40 years ago. I remember that it was a slim book, possibly with some ink drawings. I remember being excited about owning it. The book itself was like a piece of history and my tunnel to connect to history and the world of Carver.
The story of George Washington Carver that I learned then – that he was an innovator from a young age who went on to study at college and earn a Masters degree, that he advanced agricultural research in the U.S., and of course, that he was famous for peanuts – that stuff stuck with me.
From that account written for children, the part that I held most dear, and that I think of when jumping into some adventure, work-related or otherwise, was Carver’s confidence in being able to learn anything. That was then, there’s no telling what he would be capable of in this age with modern technology if this were his era.
Some days it sounds trite to say, “You can do anything you put your mind too.” I hear that, and some days I believe it, and some days, I don’t. But when I think of Carver coming up in Reconstruction, all too aware of his family history, aware of those who were still in many ways still enslaved around him, then I find inspiration in that. I believe that he believed he could do anything, and some days that’s enough.
When you think about that quality of self-confidence that Carver had, it probably comes as no surprise that some colleagues and students at Tuskeegee considered Carver arrogant. It comes with the territory. And when it comes to being Black and “arrogant,” well, you know, I’ll bet the shoulders of that jacket could’ve darn-near gotten worn out with all that he had to brush off.
Carver earned his Masters Degree from Iowa St in 1896, where he had conducted agriculture research and taught. In ’96 he took Tuskeegee up on their invite and “remained there for 47 years, teaching former slaves farming techniques for self-sufficiency.” (Wiki entry on George Washington Carver)