Heroes of the Faith: George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
“. . . I Did Let Down My Bucket”
He was not a mighty military man; in fact, he was always rather frail. He was not a polished politician. He was not even an effervescent executive. But he was a most enterprising individual in his field of expertise. Some, in fact, consider him to be “. . . the most remarkable American who has ever lived.” Emerging from a most underprivileged upbringing, he fought battles on par with the great commanders and generals. George Washington Carver overcame innumerable obstacles and barriers, yet did so with a most genteel and gallant spirit, and he revolutionized his sphere of influence. And what was one of his secrets? “I did let down my bucket.”
History--George Washington Carver’s “Everyday” Life
Dr. Carver was born into the most austere of conditions in Diamond Grove, Missouri, during the Civil War. His parents were slaves, merely chattel, own by neighboring estate owners. He did not even have a surname. Shortly after his birth, he was kidnapped along with his mother, Mary, by midnight marauders, from their hut on the property of their masters, Moses and Susan Carver. Mary was apparently sold to new owners, never seen again. The infant George, gravely ill with whooping cough, was negotiated and redeemed by Moses for the price of a race horse worth $300. The Carvers raised him as their own, giving him their name. At an early age, George developed an avid appreciation for nature, and the splendor of creation. This growing zeal would become the driving force in his life.
Heritage--George Washington Carver’s Earthly Labors
Carver was regenerated rather unceremoniously at age ten. He would testify, “God just came into my heart one afternoon while I was alone in the loft of our big barn.” He frugally fought his way through school, and was accepted by mail at a college in Kansas. However, upon his arrival, he was refused matriculation because he was black. He alternatively enrolled at Simpson College (Iowa), graduated, and eventually earned a Masters of Agriculture. He was approached by Booker T. Washington, who invited Carver to “cast down your bucket,” and George accepted the challenge to share his knowledge with young African-Americans in agricultural studies, at Tuskegee Institute. Carver became a fixture Tuskegee for 47 years. His most prolific contribution was convincing southern farmers to rotate harvesting cotton (which had been seriously damaged by boll weevil infestation) with alternate plantings of peanut and sweet potato, which would revitalize the worn and weary soil. As a result of this topographical transformation, Dr. Carver pioneered over 300 commercial commodities from the peanut, and more than 100 merchandisable offshoots from the sweet potato!
Horizons--George Washington Carver’s Enduring Legacy
The true monetary value of George Washington Carver’s expansive agrarian engineerings and his entrepreneurial spirit is incalculable. But his Christian faith was an even more impressionable gift to his fellow man. At a time when agriculture was reeling from overworked terrain and declining agribusiness, his impact was for such a time as this. It has been written about him, “Through Carver’s trust in God, he overcame poverty and racial prejudice to earn the admiration of his contemporaries and the grateful recognition of later generations” (Rupert Simms). The legacy of Dr. Carver, and his industrious, Christian faith, can be captured in Hosea 10.12--”Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." How might we incorporate this humbled, yet heartfelt spirit, into our quest to be found faithful?
Recommended Resources For Further Focus:
Perry, John. George Washington Carver (Christian Encounters Series). Thomas Nelson, 2011.
Wellman, Sam. George Washington Carver: Inventor and Naturalist. Barbour Publishing, 1998.