NORFOLK (NNS) — Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, launched Negro History Week in February 1926, as an effort to bring awareness of African American history to school systems. About 50 years later, President Gerald Ford declared February to be Black History Month, and deemed it a national observance.
Black History Month is a time designated to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of African American innovators throughout history. George Washington Carver is one of these innovators.
Carver was a prominent African American scientist and inventor, best known for discovering the diversity of the peanut. According to his biography, Carver was born into slavery and went on to become a botanist and one of the most prominent scientists of his time and a teacher at the Tuskegee Institute, a private, historically black university located in Tuskegee, Alabama. Carver came up with more than 100 products using the peanut including dyes, plastics and gasoline.
According to a Tuskegee University article, Carver took a holistic approach to knowledge, which embraced faith and inquiry in a unified quest for truth. The article also said that Carver believed that commitment to a larger reality is necessary if science and technology are to serve human needs rather than the egos of the powerful. His belief in service was a direct outgrowth and expression of his wedding of inquiry and commitment.
"It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts," said Carver. "These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success."
Carver discovered more than 100 uses for the sweet potato and a variety of Southern plants. His work resulted in the creation of more than 300 products from peanuts, contributing greatly to the economic improvement of the rural South. An advocate for crop rotation, Carver helped educate farmers in the rural South through his bulletins that contained invaluable advice about improving soils using fixed nitrogen crops and growing low input crops."
Carver died Jan. 5, 1943, at age 78. He was buried next to Booker T. Washington on the Tuskegee grounds.
In 1943, in light of Carver's contributions to the nation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated $30,000 to making the site of the plantation where Carver lived, the first national monument dedicated to an African American. The complex includes a statue of Carver as well as a nature trail, museum and cemetery.
Carver's legacy lived on after his death. He has numerous schools and two military vessels named after him. George Washington Carver, a hospital ship, was built just three months after Carver's death in 1943. The nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656), was commissioned in 1966 and decommissioned in 1993.
Carver's epitaph reads: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world."