From Black Slave to Genius – Superminds 12
The Man Who Talked With Flowers
In 1860 a baby boy was born to a black slave woman living on a plantation in Missouri. The child was weak, and while still tiny slave raiders attacked the farm and kidnapped the mother and child to sell further south. Moses Carver, the owner of the plantation, rode in chase of the raiders all the way to the state of Arkansas. Moses found the baby abandoned, but never caught up with the raiders to claim the mother.
The baby was allowed to live in the family house, and when old enough, because of his poor health was only expected to do light housework. For some time the child was given no name, but because of his characteristic of telling the truth Moses Carver called him George Washington, and gave him the family name Carver.
George was allowed to spend many hours each day doing whatever he liked. So George often wandered in the woods, watching the animals and fascinated by the plants and trees. Without anyone teaching him, he started sketching the plant life of the countryside. He taught himself to cook well and care for the house. He also had a secret garden in the woods in which he collected and cultivated many unusual plants. George had a deep insight into plants, and he became known as the ‘plant doctor’ because of his ability to heal sick plants of pests and diseases. People sent sick plants to him from enormous distances for his help and guidance.
A longing to learn
Not only did George develop these talents through his own study and love, but he became a fine painter and good musician. The Carvers had no money to spare on his education, although they acknowledged his need to learn. Finding an old spelling book however, George taught himself to read and write. He spent hours with this, until at ten he discovered an old log-built school house in a nearby town. Working at small jobs he managed to earn enough money to pay for his school attendance. But the school was far from home, so George slept wherever he could find a sheltered spot. At the end of a year he had learnt all the teacher could offer.
Still hungry for knowledge George moved to Fort Scott in Kansas. He attended high school there and washed dishes, cooked, laundered people’s clothes, worked at anything for seven years to earn enough to pay for his lodging and food. That was how long it took to get his school diploma. But he was still not satisfied, so he wondered where to go next. All the colleges in the south of the USA were closed to black people. He therefore applied to a northern college, but having saved his fare and travelled to the university, was again disappointed on arrival because they also refused ‘coloureds’. Eventually he was accepted at Simpson College, and received his Bachelors Degree in Science at Iowa State College. In 1896 he received his Master’s Degree.
The Man Who Talks with Flowers
George taught for a while at Ames. He was in charge of the bacteriological laboratory, greenhouse and taught systematic botany, but his life work was still awaiting him. This began with a call back south to Tuskegee in 1897. It was here, with little salary, no equipment and in barren surroundings, that be became known as a saint and scientist – the “man who talks with flowers.”
At that time the American South was a devastated place. For years the farmers had continually planted cotton. With the ‘boll weevils’ attacking the crop, and impoverished soil and heart, many farmers attempted to keep and feed their families on about $300 a year. Seeing all this as his train carried him south, Dr Carver felt a rush of purpose. Here was the work his whole life had been leading to, the regeneration of the south that had rejected him. Also, in the preceding years, as the flowering of his energy carried him through the difficulties of education, something else had opened in him. He had learnt how to pray.
To re-educate the farmers, many of whom were black, George would load a cart drawn by a mule with seeds and plants, and travel around the south teaching and lecturing. So, when he travelled out with a mule and cart, he gave more, much more, than agricultural information. Preaching crop rotation, the planting of peanuts to enrich the soil, and sweet potatoes, he gradually led the way to rich fields and crops again, along with new spiritual harvests.
Spiritual teacher, earthly agriculturist
Jim Hardwick, talking about one of George’s lectures says, “One day he came to the town where I lived and gave an address on his discoveries of the peanut. I went to the lecture expecting to learn about science and came away knowing more about prayer than I had ever learned in the theological schools. And to cap the climax, when the old gentleman was leaving the hall he turned to me, where I stood transfixed and inspired, and said, “I want you to be one of my boys!”
But Jim Hardwick was white, and born from Southern parents, whose family had owned slaves. He says, “For a ‘nigger’ to assume the right of adopting me into his family – even his spiritual family, as in this case – was brazen effrontery to my pride. I recoiled from it.” It took Jim several days of wrestling with this inbuilt pride before this barrier fell away, and he shared the inner life of Dr Carver. To quote him again, when that happened, “instantly it seemed that his spirit filled that room. . . . A peace entered me, and my problems fell away.”
The results of George’s work with the farmers of the South grew beyond anything he had expected. Farm after farm used his methods. The soil changed and crop production increased, until one year the harvest of peanuts and sweet potatoes was so big the market couldn’t absorb them. People couldn’t sell their crop. Shocked at this outcome of his work, and seeing the threat of a disaster, George went into his laboratory to pray. He didn’t ask for government aid, or demand people to stop planting. In his own words, “I went into my laboratory and said ‘Dear Mr Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?’ The Creator answered, ‘You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask for something more your size’”
“Then I asked, ‘Dear Mr Creator, tell me what man was made for?’ Again the great Creator replied, ‘Little man, you are still asking too much. Cut down the extent of your request, 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?’”
“‘Mr Creator, can I make milk out of the peanut?’”
Power of prayer in the laboratory
George locked himself in his laboratory for several days and nights listening to his intuition and working to analyse the peanut. When he emerged he said God and he had solved the problem. From the peanut, and later the pecan-nut and sweet potato, George Carver discovered how to extract, or synthesise, face powders, printers ink, peanut butter, shampoo, creosote, vinegar, dandruff-cure, instant coffee, dyes, rubberoid compound, soaps, wood stains, and hundreds of other uses. Dr Carver said that, “The great Creator gave us three kingdoms, the animal, vegetable and mineral. Now he has added a fourth, the synthetic kingdom.”
George said the secret of his incredible inventive genius came from love. “When I touch a flower, I am not merely touching that flower, I am touching infinity.” He also said, “You have to love it enough. Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also if you love them enough.”