Nathan Jones and I recently compared Christian role models from the recent past and quickly realized that we shared George Washington Carver as a noteworthy exemplar.
In an age when so much turmoil is roiling our society, Dr. Carver (an honorary title he resisted but eventually accepted) stands as a silent pillar of godly servanthood and character. I say silent because he was softspoken in life and because he has already gone on to be with the Lord. His life offers much that bears emulating.
George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Missouri in the early years of the Civil War. When he was only a week old he was kidnapped along with his mother and sister and sold in Kentucky. His master, Moses Carver was only able to locate baby George. He paid a ransom for the boy’s return and raised him as his own child.
Gaining his freedom at the end of the Civil War, Carver was taught by a succession of benevolent Christians. Initially denied entrance to college, he homesteaded a claim in Kansas and began growing and studying plants on his own. Eventually, Carver would attend Iowa State University, graduate, and become its first black professor.
In 1896, Booker T. Washington invited Carver to head the agriculture department of the newly founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He not only became a noted member of the faculty, but he also enriched the local farming community with his proven methods of crop rotation and soil improvement. Carver leaped to national fame with his revolutionary research into the peanut, at one point demonstrating 145 different products developed from peanuts.
In 1920 he spoke before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Blue Ridge, North Carolina. He explained his discoveries about the peanut this way:
Years ago I went into my laboratory and said, “Dear, Mr. Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?” The Great Creator answered, “You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask for something more your size, little man.”
Then I asked, “Please, Mr. Creator, tell me what man was made for.” Again the Great Creator replied, “You are still asking too much. Cut down on the extent and improve the intent.”
So then I asked, “Please, Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?”
“That’s better, but even then it’s infinite. What do you want to know about the peanut?”
Carver described how he asked God to show him how to use the peanut to bless mankind. He testified, “And then the Great Creator taught me to take the peanut apart and put it together again. And out of the process have come forth all these products!”
In 1921, he was invited to address the House Ways and Means Committee. China was dumping cheap peanuts on the American market, threatening American farmers with ruin. In the era of segregation, Carver’s presence created a stir in Congress. Offered 10 minutes to speak, his presentation on the peanut was so fascinating that the chairman told him to take all the time he wanted.
When he finished an hour and forty-five minutes later, he was asked how he had learned all these things about the peanut. “From an old book,” he responded. “What book?” asked the Chairman. Carver replied, “the Bible.” The Chairman inquired, “Does the Bible tell about peanuts?” “No, Sir,” Dr. Carver replied. “But it tells about the God who made the peanut. I asked Him to show me what to do with the peanut, and He did.”
George Washington Carver took the Lord at His Word — literally.
He once wrote, “My beloved friend, keep your hand in that of the Master, walk daily by His side, so that you may lead others in the realms of true happiness, where a religion of hate, (which poisons both body and soul) will be unknown, having in its place the ‘Golden Rule Way’, which is the ‘Jesus Way’ of life.”
In addition to his classes on agriculture, Carver also taught Bible classes on Sunday. His fervent faith in Jesus Christ led him to develop eight cardinal virtues for his student’s character development:
- Be clean both inside and out
- Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor
- Lose, if need be, without squealing
- Win without bragging
- Always be considerate of women, children, and older people
- Be too brave to lie
- Be too generous to cheat
- Take your share of the world and let others take theirs
Strikingly, in the early 1900s Carver shared his botanical insights with black and white farmers equally. In a letter dated March 24, 1925, he testified, “Thank God I love humanity; complexion doesn’t interest me one single bit.”
Even before his death, George Washington Carver’s reputation was well-known. In 1939 he received the Roosevelt Medal, dedicated “To a scientist humbly seeking the guidance of God and a liberator to men of the white race as well as the black.”
Upon Carver’s death, Senator Harry Truman sponsored a bill to erect a monument to this great American. Even as World War II raged, the bill passed unanimously and a considerable sum was devoted to the monument.
As America wrestles with racial division and the concept of humility is foreign to the self-absorbed masses, George Washington Carver exemplifies one who followed Micah’s counsel:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
to love kindness, and to
walk humbly with your God?
– Micah 6:8
How then should we live? According to the model offered by this humble, godly man.