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Man of science--and of God: George Washington Carver believed that Providence guided his scientific investigations and that those investigations led to a better understanding of God and His handiwork.

A struggling peanut plant growing in heavy Alabama clay; a poor, black orphan with no material resources; an ancient pecan tree standing solitary sentry in a Georgia field: Many people would consider these at best mundane, at worst pitiable pit·i·a·ble  
1. Arousing or deserving of pity or compassion; lamentable.

2. Arousing disdainful pity. See Synonyms at pathetic.

. But George Washington Carver, eminent researcher and educator, saw in all of these, and in much more, the very hand of God.

God's Little Workshop

The ability to discern the infinite in both the animate and inanimate objects Inanimate Objects


the study of inanimate things.


the assignment to inanimate objects, forces, and plants of personalities and wills, but not souls. — animatistic, adj.
 of his very finite world was one of Carver's unique hallmarks. In an age where scientists had begun to view science and religion as mutually exclusive Adj. 1. mutually exclusive - unable to be both true at the same time

incompatible - not compatible; "incompatible personalities"; "incompatible colors"
, Carver stood out for his insistence that science provides proof of God's existence. He was fond of paraphrasing the eighth chapter, 32nd verse of the Gospel of John For other uses, see Gospel of John (disambiguation).

The Gospel of John (literally, According to John; Greek, Κατά Ιωαννην, Kata Iōannēn
, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free," as, "And you shall know science and science shall set you free, because science is truth." Or, more simply, "Science is simply the truth about anything."

Carver's chemistry laboratory at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, where he investigated the chemical properties and economic possibilities of peanuts, pecans, clay, soybeans, sweet potatoes and other substances, was filled with vials, bottles, and insect, plant, mushroom and flower collections. He often referred to his lab as "God's little workshop." He did not consider himself a scientific genius--that is, he did not take credit for discovering one or another product. Instead, he considered himself a conduit for divine inspiration and revelation: "[I] ask the Great Creator ... to permit me to speak to Him through the three great Kingdoms of the world, which He has created, viz.--the animal, mineral and vegetable Kingdoms."

Nor was Carver reticent about how he worked. In 1924, he spoke to an audience at a church in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
, saying "I never have to grope for Verb 1. grope for - feel searchingly; "She groped for his keys in the dark"

feel - grope or feel in search of something; "He felt for his wallet"
 methods: the method is revealed at the moment I am inspired to create something new." The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 Times, strongly disagreeing with Carver's juxtaposition of science and divine influence, published an editorial claiming that Carver's comments revealed a "complete lack of the scientific spirit."

If "scientific spirit" means excluding God from the investigation of His own creation, then, in that skewed skewed

curve of a usually unimodal distribution with one tail drawn out more than the other and the median will lie above or below the mean.

skewed Epidemiology adjective Referring to an asymmetrical distribution of a population or of data
 sense, the Times was right. For Carver plainly considered God and science inseparable. He once wrote, "I am not interested in science or any thing else that leaves God out of it." The Times, and many contemporary fellow scientists, simply could not understand a man who made statements such as, "I love to think of Nature as wireless telegraph stations through which God speaks to us every day, every hour, and every moment of our lives."

From Tiny Acorns Mighty Oaks Do Grow

Carver traced his simple but profound faith in God to a conversion experience when he was 10 years old, just a few years after the Civil War. The story is best told in Carver's own words.
   A dear little white boy, one of our
   neighbors, about my age came by one
   Saturday morning and in talking and
   playing, he told me he was going to
   Sunday school tomorrow morning. I
   was eager to know what a Sunday
   school was. He said they sang hymns
   and prayed. I asked him what prayer
   was and what they said. I do not remember
   what he said; only remember
   that as soon as he left I climbed up
   into the loft, knelt down by the barrel
   of corn and prayed as best I could. I
   do not remember what I said. I only
   recall that I felt so good that I prayed
   several times before I quit.

During that time period, in the mid-1870s, many churches did not allow blacks to attend. So it was years before Carver actually set foot in a house of God. But for him, all of Nature was God's house An almshouse.
A church.

See also: God God
. Carver had plenty of opportunity to explore nature, growing up on a small farm in Missouri, but he didn't have an easy time of it. Born a slave in approximately 1864, he and his mother were kidnapped in a bushwhacker raid. Carver was rescued (in exchange for a racehorse racehorse

refers usually to thoroughbred but may also include standardbred, trotter.
), but he never saw his mother again. His father died before he was born. From these humble beginnings Humble Beginnings was an American pop punk band from New Jersey. While never gaining large-scale success, many of the band's members went on to mainstream success with other outfits.  came one of the most talented researchers this country has ever seen.

Carver left the home farm when he was about 10 years old, in search of an education. Attending school was of paramount importance to him, but there were serious obstacles. Most schools did not allow blacks to attend, and, of course, Carver had no money. However, through a combination of Providence and hard work, Carver not only finished elementary and high school, but in 1890 became the first black student at Simpson College
For the college in Redding, California associated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, see Simpson University.

Simpson College is a four-year, coeducational liberal arts institution situated in Indianola, Iowa, USA, and affiliated with the
 in Iowa. He later obtained a Master's Degree master's degree
An academic degree conferred by a college or university upon those who complete at least one year of prescribed study beyond the bachelor's degree.

Noun 1.
 in agriculture from Iowa State University Academics
ISU is best known for its degree programs in science, engineering, and agriculture. ISU is also home of the world's first electronic digital computing device, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer.
. He excelled in his classes and research, and in 1896 Booker T. Washington asked him to come to Tuskegee Institute to lead Tuskegee's new Department of Agriculture.

It was at Tuskegee that Carver began to leave his indelible mark on history and on Southern agriculture. Carver loved the South, and he hated to see his fellow farmers languishing lan·guish  
intr.v. lan·guished, lan·guish·ing, lan·guish·es
1. To be or become weak or feeble; lose strength or vigor.

 in poverty in the economic aftermath of the Civil War. He was convinced that new products, and a new attitude, could transform the South from an economic wasteland into an economic powerhouse. At the heart of his plan was the simple phrase, "waste not, want not." Carver recognized that what most people saw as waste products were actually undeveloped natural resources. He once wrote an editorial in the Birmingham News that stated, "'Take care of the waste on the farm and turn it into useful channels' should be the slogan of every farmer."

Carver led the way in showing exactly how to accomplish this feat. He found in myriad common resources--the many varieties of clay available in the South, the medicinal plants medicinal plants, plants used as natural medicines. This practice has existed since prehistoric times. There are three ways in which plants have been found useful in medicine.  that may easily be grown in the southern climate, the cow pea, the soy bean, the velvet bean, the pecan, the sweet potato, and the "humble peanut"--the means to "fill the empty dinner pail Noun 1. dinner pail - a pail in which a workman carries his lunch or dinner
dinner bucket

bucket, pail - a roughly cylindrical vessel that is open at the top
, enrich our soils, [and] bring greater wealth and influence to our beautiful South land. which is synonymous to a healthy, happy and contented people."

One of the South's main problems was depleted de·plete  
tr.v. de·plet·ed, de·plet·ing, de·pletes
To decrease the fullness of; use up or empty out.

[Latin d
 soils from years of growing intensive crops of cotton and tobacco. Carver pioneered organic fertilizer techniques, encouraging Southern farmers to plant peanuts--a crop high in nitrates that would build the soil back up. Of course, that resulted in farmers having an over-abundance of peanuts, prompting Carver to discover economically rewarding uses for them instead of simply throwing them away. His description of how he came to develop over 300 products from peanuts alone is revealing of Carver's scientific methodology:
   Why, I just took a handful of peanuts
   and looked at them. "Great Creator,"
   I said, "why did you make the
   peanut? Why?" With such knowledge
   as I had of chemistry and physics I set
   to work to take the peanut apart. I separated
   the water, the fats, the oils, the
   gums, the resins, sugars, starches,
   pectoses, pentoses, pentosans, legumen,
   lysin, the amino and amido
   acids. There! I had the parts of the
   peanut all spread out before me. Then
   I merely went on to try different combinations
   of those parts, under different
   conditions of temperature, pressure,
   and so forth.

With these "parts," Carver discovered more than 300 peanut-related products, including milk, cream, cheese, buttermilk buttermilk

residual fluid after removal of fat from milk in butter manufacture; a protein-rich supplement fed to pigs.
, instant coffee, face powder, ink, dyes, vinegar, soap, wood stains and creosote creosote (krē`əsōt), volatile, heavy, oily liquid obtained by the distillation of coal tar or wood tar. Creosote derived from beechwood tar has been used medicinally as an antiseptic and in the treatment of chronic bronchitis. .

Let Your Light Shine

Unlike many researchers, who become totally absorbed by their work and view interactions with other people as annoying intrusions, Carver spent much of his time evangelizing; he wanted to share his love of science and love of God with as many people as possible. He held evening Bible classes at Tuskegee Institute, after he had finished his teaching, research and administrative duties. He was also a leader in the Young Men's Christian Association Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), organization having as its objective the development of values and behaviors that are consistent with Christian principles.  (YMCA YMCA
 in full Young Men's Christian Association

Nonsectarian, nonpolitical Christian lay movement that aims to develop high standards of Christian character among its members.
), where he told young people how they could come to understand the mysteries of God by studying nature. In 1927, in a letter to YMCA official Jack Boyd, he wrote:
   How I thank God every day that I can
   walk and talk with Him. Just last
   week I was reminded of His onmipotence,
   majesty and power through a
   little specimen of mineral sent me for
   analysis from Bakersfield, California.
   I have dissolved it, purified it, made
   conditions favorable for the formation
   of crystals, when lo before my very
   eyes, a beautiful bunch of sea green
   crystals have formed and alongside of
   them a bunch of snow white ones.
   Marvel of marvels, how I wish I had
   you in God's little workshop for a
   while, how your soul would be
   thrilled and lifted up.

Carver also mentored several young men in whom he saw great promise, both in terms of faith, and in the arts and sciences. He referred to these proteges as "my boys" and maintained a regular correspondence with them, offering advice on all manner of issues as they matured. In particular, he urged his "boys" to use Nature as a means to coming to know their Creator, even if they had no laboratory in which to work: "To those who have as yet not learned the secret of true happiness, which is the joy of coming into the closest relationship with the Maker and Preserver of all things: begin now to study the little things in your own door yard, going from the known to the nearest related unknown for indeed each new truth brings one nearer to God."

Throughout his life, Carver stressed that service to fellow citizens was of utmost importance--far more important than money. Early in life he penned the following words: "No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it." When Carver passed on to his Heavenly reward on January 5, 1943, he had definitely lived up to his own creed.

Carver's Discoveries

Carver's scientific discoveries included more than 300 different products derived from the peanut, some 100 from sweet potatoes, about 75 from pecans, and many more from Georgia clay.

Here is just a sampling of items, many of them peanut-based, emanating from the partnership between Carver and his Creator: milk, cream, cheese, buttermilk, instant coffee, face powder, ink, dyes, vinegar, soap, wood stains, creosote, plastics, linoleum linoleum (lĭnō`lēəm), resilient floor or wall covering made of burlap, canvas, or felt, surfaced with a composition of wood flour, oxidized linseed oil, gums or other ingredients, and coloring matter. , metal polish, synthetic rubber synthetic rubber: see rubber. , adhesives, axle grease Noun 1. axle grease - a thick heavy grease used to lubricate axles
grease, lubricating oil - a thick fatty oil (especially one used to lubricate machinery)
, bleach, chili sauce, flour, fuel briquettes, insulating board, mayonnaise, meat tenderizer, paper, rubbing oils, salve salve (sav) ointment.

An analgesic or medicinal ointment.

salve v.


, shampoo, shoe polish, shaving cream, synthetic marble, talcum tal·cum
See talc.


talc, talcum powder.
 powder, vanishing cream. worcestershire sauce, highway paving material, and cooking oil.

Although Carver discovered over 500 separate products in his almost 50 years at Tuskegee, he held only three patents. "God gave them to me," stated Carver. "How can I sell them to someone else?"

Inspiration for Invention

Carver read the following poem during his commencement address at Selma University on May 17, 1942, less than a year before his death. The poem, written by Edgar A. Guest, captures Carver's belief in what an individual can accomplish if only he fully utilizes the equipment God has given him.

   Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
   You've "all that the greatest of men have had,
   Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes
   And a brain to use if you would be wise.
   With this equipment they all began,
   So start for the top and say, "I can."

   Look them over, the wise and great
   They take their food from a common plate,
   And similar knives and forks they use,
   With similar laces they tie their shoes.
   The world considers them brave and smart,
   But you've all they had when they made their start.

   You can triumph and come to skill,
   You can be great if you only will.
   You're well equipped for what fight you choose,
   You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
   And the man who has risen great deeds to do
   Began his life with no more than you.

   You are the handicap you must face,
   You are the one who must choose your place,
   You must say where you want to go,
   How much you will study the truth to know.
   God has equipped you for life, but He
   Lets you decide what you want to be.

   Courage must come from the soul within,
   The man must furnish the will to win.
   So figure it out for yourself, my lad.
   You were born with all that the great have had,
   With your equipment they all began,
   Get hold of yourself and say: "I can."

Youthful curiosity: The Carver Boyhood Statue, part of the George Washington Carver National Monument George Washington Carver National Monument: see National Parks and Monuments (table). , commemorates Carver's formative years on the Carver plantation in Diamond, Missouri. Those boyhood years spent exploring the fields and woods of rural Missouri prepared Carver for his more formal work at Tuskegee Institute, in "God's little workshop."


Common ground: Although Booker T. Washington (left) and Carver didn't always see eye-to-eye on the minutiae mi·nu·ti·a  
n. pl. mi·nu·ti·ae
A small or trivial detail: "the minutiae of experimental and mathematical procedure" Frederick Turner.
 of Carver's administrative duties at Tuskegee Institute (above), they did share two abiding passions--the continuing education continuing education: see adult education.
continuing education
 or adult education

Any form of learning provided for adults. In the U.S. the University of Wisconsin was the first academic institution to offer such programs (1904).
 of their fellow black American citizens, and the bolstering of a stumbling post-Civil War Southern economy.


Jodie Gilmore, a home-schooling mother of two, is a freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Opinion Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:History--Faith In Action
Author:Gilmore, Jodie
Publication:The New American
Date:Jan 26, 2004
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