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social sciences

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Carver, George Washington (1864?-1943)  
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Carver and Curtis

Carver's frequent companion from 1935 on was his assistant, Austin W. Curtis, Jr., a Cornell graduate in chemistry who had taught at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (now State University) before coming to Tuskegee. Carver had been less than enthusiastic about having an assistant appointed and had turned down a number of applicants prior to meeting Curtis, but with him he quickly developed a strong bond.

In 1943, Rackham Holt described the relationship between the two men: "At last someone had been welcomed not merely into Dr. Carver's laboratory, but also into his heart. He believed that there was something providential in the coming of this young man, so intensely serious about his work and extremely competent at it, who was at the same time a genial companion; he was proud of him and loved and depended on him as his own son . . . . And the affection was returned in full measure. Mr. Curtis accompanied him everywhere, seeing to his comfort, shielding him from intrusion, and acting as his official mouthpiece."

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Holt also noted that Carver "would tuck his hand into the arm of 'my dear boy'" when the two set off to inspect experiments.

In likening the rapport between them to that of a father and son, Holt was echoing Carver's own, possibly guarded, words.

Fame and Honors: Last Years

By the time that Curtis arrived, Carver was around seventy years old and had retired from teaching but was still doing research. Although the work of his last years was not among his most significant, from the late 1930s onward, his earlier research, especially with regard to the diverse potential uses of peanuts, came to public attention, and he was honored with, as McMurry puts it, "what became a deluge of awards." His fame continued to grow as he was the subject of many radio programs and a guest on several broadcasts.

Among Carver's admirers was Henry Ford, who invited him to speak at a 1937 conference on the application of chemistry and other sciences to the farming industry that Ford had organized in Dearborn, Michigan. Like Carver, the automobile magnate favored the development of nutritious crops that could be an economic boon as well. Ford was particularly interested in soybeans.

Because of his esteem for Carver, Ford founded a school for African-American children on a portion of the grounds of his plantation in Ways, Georgia and named it in the scientist's honor. Carver was present at the dedication in 1939 and had a standing invitation to visit Ford when he was at the plantation, where guest rooms were always kept prepared for Carver and Curtis.

Declining health limited Carver's ability to travel, but he made such trips as were meaningful to him, including one in 1941 to Simpson College, where he gave the sermon at the graduation ceremonies.

The following year Carver went to Dearborn, where Henry Ford had erected a replica of his birthplace (based on Carver's recollection of the cabin) in Greenfield Village, a collection of buildings assembled by Ford to represent Americana.

At the same time, Ford founded a nutritional laboratory in Carver's honor. Carver's extended stay in Michigan on that occasion led to rumors that he would quit Tuskegee and finish his career at the new lab.

Carver returned to Alabama, however, and briefly continued his duties at Tuskegee until he suffered a fall while trying to open the door of his building on campus. He died some two weeks later on January 5, 1943 and was buried in the churchyard of the college chapel.

Expressions of sympathy poured in to the Tuskegee mailroom from a wide variety of people--heads of state, scientists, sharecroppers, and schoolchildren, as well as celebrities from assorted fields, all of whom felt that he had touched their lives in some way.

The National Park Service now owns 210 of the 240 acres of the farm where Carver was born. The George Washington Carver National Monument includes buildings from his lifetime and nature trails to help visitors try to see what he saw in the plant life of the area. Photos and videos present the story of Carver's life, at least that portion of it that he was free to live openly, a story that is, at best, incomplete.

Linda Rapp

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Brodie, James Michael. Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators. New York: William Morrow, 1993.

Griffin, Horace L. Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians & Gays in Black Churches. Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 2006.

Holt, Rackham. George Washington Carver: An American Biography. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1943.

McMurry, Linda O. George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Carver, George Washington  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated October 22, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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