February 15, 2013

The Story of George Washington Carver

I picked up a used copy of a slim children's book, Eva Moore's The Story of George Washington Carver.

When I was a child, Carver was a hero because he invented peanut butter.  He was also a hero to the grown-ups at church because he combined faith and intellect in his approach.  He prayed to God asking for revelation so he could understand the purpose and potential of materials in his experiments.  That is, "what is the peanut for?"  Then he did systematic scientific experiments, lots of them.  Carver was also considered admirable because he had gotten a good education in the face of racial prejudice and limited opportunities.  That's pretty much all I knew as a kid.

I know more now, from the biography, and someday I should read one written for an adult audience.  I respect Carver's commitment to teaching people how to cultivate and use natural materials in practical ways that made their lives better.

There are mentions of yarn, needlework, and dyes in the book.  Moore writes that Carver owned his mother's spinning wheel, meant for cotton, and could spin yarn himself.  He could also knit, crochet, embroider, and sew.  He made rugs out of dried okra stalks and taught people how to make them.

Carver taught a system of compost and crop rotation to increase cotton yields.  He taught farmers to make yellow paint from clay.  He developed dyes from sweet potatoes and peanuts.

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