DICK BAYNTON: From Slavery to Scientific Renown

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Dick Baynton

George Washington Carver was born in January 1864 into slavery in Diamond, MO. His parents were Mary and Giles who were ‘purchased’ as slaves by Moses Carver, a German immigrant. Purchase of the parents meant that the children were included in the sale from William P. McGinnis on October 9th, 1844; the price was $700. When just a week old George, his sister and mother were kidnapped at night by Arkansas raiders and sold in Kentucky. Moses Carter negotiated with the raiders and recovered George but his mother was never found. As a result, Moses Carter and his wife Susan raised George and his brother James as their own sons after slavery was abolished in Missouri in January 1865.  The Carvers encouraged George and James to continue ‘intellectual pursuits’ and taught them reading and writing.

George wanted to attend school and went to the village school of Diamond Grove (now, just Diamond, Newton County, MO). He was rejected because of his color but heard about a school in the town of Neosho, just 10 miles south. Arriving at dusk after trudging 10 miles on foot, George slept in a barn and in the morning left the barn and sat on a nearby woodpile. A lady called from a nearby house asking him to come to her. She was Mariah Watkins who was married to Andrew but with no children; she was also a midwife. The Watkins home was next door to the ‘Lincoln’ school so George entered and listened intently as the Black male teacher named Stephen S. Frost lectured. Brother James came and started attending school but dropped out and began apprenticing in the plastering trade.

At age 13, George left Neosho after hearing that a family was moving to Ft. Scott, Kansas, 75 miles away and just across the Missouri border. Finding a job, he started as housekeeper and cook for Mr. and Mrs. Payne; also working part time for a blacksmith. Sent on an errand to the drugstore, a crowd was gathering at the jail. The shouting kept getting louder when a Black man was dragged from the jail and flailed to death in front of his very eyes. He finished his errand, and left Ft. Scott in the morning.

Wandering about and attending schools as he went he turned up in Olathe, Kansas staying in the home of Christopher and Lucy Seymour. The Seymour’s moved to Minneapolis, Kansas where George graduated from high school. Interested in attending college, George was accepted at Highland College in Highland, Kansas. Upon arrival, he was rejected for racial reasons, left the area and homesteaded 17 acres in Eden Township in Ness County, Kansas. In 1888 he negotiated a $300 education loan to study art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Realizing that George’s skills went beyond what he was studying, he was urged to enroll at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Arts.

He flourished there starting in 1891 receiving both a BS and MS by 1896; invited to stay on as a professor, G.W. Carver was the first Black faculty member at Iowa State. Noting his achievements, Booker T. Washington, President of what is now Tuskegee University in Alabama invited Carver to head the university’s Agriculture Department where he stayed and taught for 47 years. His fame grew as he developed new processes for raising sweet potatoes, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and cowpeas. Suffering a fall at his home, he died on January 5th, 1943 and is buried next to Booker T. Washington.

Carver was honored with three honorary doctorates, two during his lifetime and a posthumous PhD from Iowa State University in 1994. Hundreds of schools have been built honoring his name throughout our nation including G.W. Carver Elementary School here in Salem, VA.  A U.S. Navy submarine in 1965 and a Liberty Ship in 1943 bearing his name were launched. A replica of Carver’s birth cabin resides at Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI. A Historic Site called the ‘G.W/ Carver Museum’ exists on the Tuskegee University Campus. He won prestigious honors too numerous to mention.

The moral of Carver’s story is simple: for those who employ their talents, overcome adversity with self-discipline and courage can achieve heights of success beyond their wildest dreams.

Dick Baynton