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George Washington Carver
Black History Month profiles, from the Legacy Project
2011-02-23

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U.S. Botanist, Agronomist, Educator and Inventor, 1864 — 1943

Though he was born into slavery, George Washington Carver struggled and persisted in his quest for an education in the early years of the post-Civil War South. After obtaining his Master's degree, Carver was invited to lead the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Institute in 1896 and remained there for 47 years. Because decades of aggressive cotton farming had depleted the soil of vital nutrients, Carver's research focused on finding crop alternatives to cotton — such as peanuts and sweet potatoes — which he wanted poor farmers to grow as a source of food and other products to improve their quality of life. Carver's scientific achievements challenged racial stereotypes, eventually making him the most famous African-American of his time. Business leaders like Henry Ford came to seek his advice, as well as American presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt. Though his renown helped to raise the profile of Tuskegee ( along with desperately needed funds ) administrators worried about potential scandal from the persistent rumors of his homosexuality — especially after 1935 when Carver established a life and research partnership with Austin W. Curtis, Jr. that endured until Carver's death in 1943. Rumors aside, on July 14, 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized $30,000 for the George Washington Carver National Monument — the first to be dedicated to an African-American and also the first to a non-President. Though numerous awards and accolades have been bestowed upon Carver, his most enduring tribute comes perhaps from the American Public School system and the several dozen elementary schools and high schools which bear his name.

The Legacy Project recognizes the many roles Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered people have played in the advancment of world history and culture. The Legacy Walk, the only outdoor International GLBT history museum in the world, is coming to N. Halsted Street in Chicago and will be dedicated on Oct. 11, 2011. For information, to donate or to volunteer, see www.legacyprojectchicago.org .


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