"All these years, I have been doing one thing.
The poet Tennyson was working at the same job. This
is the way he expressed it:
Flower in the crannied wall
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man
Tennyson was seeking Truth. That is what the scientist
is seeking. That is what the artist is seeking; his
writings, his weavings, his music, his pictures are
just the expressions of his soul in his search for Truth."
George Washington Carver
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Marie Sklodowska Curie
George Washington Carver has earned
a place in American history; his name has at some time
graced the lips of almost every American schoolchild.
But why do we remember him? Born into poverty, orphaned
almost immediately after birth, and growing up in the
South during the time of Reconstruction, he shared the
common burden of thousands of post-Civil War freed slaves.
But his response to these hardships has set him apart
as someone to be remembered: he chose to give something,
no matter what the cost, to other human beings. Despite
overwhelming odds, he braved the trials of despair and
hopelessness and has become known as one of America's
great men—an inspiring lecturer, teacher, and scientist,
a lover of truth in the midst of prejudice.
His life began in Missouri, on the farm of a relatively
prosperous couple named Moses and Susan Carver. The Carvers'
slave, Mary, gave birth to her second son, George, just
as the Civil War was coming to an end; George's father,
rumored to be a slave on a nearby plantation, died in
a logging accident that same year. George was a frail
child who suffered from whooping cough, and Mary would
tend to him before the fire in their one-room cabin. When
a band of Confederate raiders invaded the Carvers' land
and kidnaped Mary soon after George's birth, the couple
was devastated and determined to raise George and his
brother Jim as if they were their own children.
Susan took George under her wing, probably because George's
delicate constitution prevented him from engaging in many
of Moses' farm chores. She taught him to wash clothes,
cook, and sew, invaluable skills that would serve him
well during his long life. Moses, an independent-minded
man of strong ethics, instilled in George a healthy sense
of self-discipline and taught him how to care for animals.
Whenever George had a free moment, though, he would disappear
into the woods to collect rocks and bugs and tend to a
"secret garden" he kept there. Early on, he distinguished
himself as especially talented with plants, and sometimes
neighbors would ask him to take care of their sick plants
when they couldn't nurse them back to health themselves.
While still very young, George recognized in himself a
burning intelligence and curiosity about life and the
world. Later he would write about this period in his life:
"I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and
insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got
its color, where it got its life—but there was no one
to tell me. I do not know how I learned to read and write,
but I did in some way, thanks to the Carvers. My only
book was an old Webster's Elementary Spelling Book. I
knew it almost by heart. I sought the answers to my questions
from the spelling book, but all in vain."
Frustrated by the discrimination of the local church school,
which refused to educate blacks, George made the only
choice he could: he set out for the school for blacks
located eight miles away in Neosho.
He was only ten years old when he left home. He did not
know where he would live, or how he would eat, and he
arrived in Neosho alone and willing to starve himself
to satisfy his hunger for knowledge. George would continue
to wander in search of an education until his twenty-fifth
year, sometimes living with couples who shared with him
a reverence for life, and sometimes scraping by on his
own; his skills at washing and pressing would serve him
well during these years, earning him enough money to eat,
if nothing more. Throughout these ramblings he confronted
the poverty, discrimination, and violence experienced
by black people all across the South, fleeing from at
least one town in fear of his life.
By 1890, George was a discouraged young man. Although
he yearned for knowledge and meaning, it seemed nearly
impossible for a black man to receive anything more than
an elementary school education. Within him was growing
a greater awareness of his need to serve his people, who
suffered from ignorance and extreme want, and who had
constitutional freedom but not the means to attain economic
liberation. Determined to enter college despite the odds,
he applied to Simpson College in Iowa and was, to his