Guest column/Remembering work of George Washington Carver

We, as African-Americans, are making history each day that we live. Our history and culture have made their marks, beginning with the degradation of slavery, which began in 1619.

Through all of our struggles, visible and invisible, we are yet proud to be African-Americans in the 21st century.

However, there is one important phenomenon that we are facing today, and that is the tragedy of our children not having any knowledge of their rich history. The majority of them do not have any clue about the courageous black woman who would not relinquish her seat on the bus, as she was ordered, to a white man, or the courageous march across the bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to protest police brutality and demanding voting rights. This popular historical march was named “Bloody Sunday.” We, as parents, must teach our children the history of their rich heritage, and that we have overcome, so far by and through someone else. We stand on countless shoulders, realizing that we must assume the responsibility of learning and preserving our past, or we will find it difficult to function in the present. We must always know with proudness who we are.

The exact birth date of George Washington Carver, inventor of agricultural science, a botanist and educator, is unknown, but it was said to be in the year 1864. Born into slavery in Missouri, with 10 sisters and a brother, all of who died prematurely, he lived on the Carver plantation near Diamond Grove, Mo., with his parents, who were slaves owned by the slavemaster Moses Carver.

George W. Carver and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders and taken to Arkansas when Carver was a baby. His mother was never found, but he was returned to the Carver plantation in exchange for a race horse. Because Carver was a sickly child and was unable to do much work, he spent his time collecting flowers and plants.

After slavery was abolished, the slavemaster, Moses Carver, and his wife, Susan, raised George and his older brother, James, as their own. They encouraged George to continue his intellectual pursuits.

Black people were not allowed at the public schools, but there was a school for black children 10 miles south in Neosha. George decided to go there. He then taught himself to read and then left home in search of further education.

After enrolling in Minneapolis High School in Kansas, he won a scholarship to Highland University, but lost it when the school learned he was black.

In 1887, he enrolled at Simpson College in Iowa, then went to Iowa State Agricultural College. He graduated in 1894 and became the first African-American on the faculty. Along with teaching, Carver engaged in agricultural research, experimenting with plant chemistry and conducting investigations into several varieties of fungus.

In 1896, Carver left Iowa State to create the department of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. When he arrived at Tuskegee, he found no laboratory and was forced to make his own equipment. He developed the idea of the movable school, which involved crossing the countryside in a wagon to teach local farmers new agricultural techniques. This movable school concept later was adopted by countries as far away as China and India.

Carver taught farmers to enrich the soil through crop rotation and developed more than 24 products from peanuts and 118 products from sweet potatoes. He became world famous and was asked to join the staffs of Thomas Edison’s company and the Ford Motor Co., but he preferred to remain at Tuskegee.

President Harry S. Truman proclaimed Jan. 5, 1946, as George Washington Carver Day, and Congress established the George Washington Carver National Monument near his birthplace in Missouri. And, there is a Carver Museum at Tuskegee University.

Through every trial, disappointment and suffering, there always is a rainbow at the end. We must never give up. No one reaches his or her goal without suffering.

Yes, we’ve come a long way by faith, remembering always that the struggle is far from over. George Washington Carver knew that education was the key. It is always the key, with much faith and perseverance.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Keep us forever in the path,We pray.

(Wiggins, a resident of Steubenville, is the president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus Inc.)