This is the third book in the Christian Encounters Series that I've reviewed (see also Galileo and J.R.R. Tolkien ). George Washington Carver is one of those historical figures that I've heard about most of my life (especially during Black History month) but never really sat down and read his life story. It's worth reading.
John Perry traces Carver's life from being raised by a white family after his mother escaped slavery, growing up sickly and frail, getting educated despite the limitations imposed on black people of the time and finally ending up as a professor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Carver's life is inspiring because he rallied forth and succeeded when he had so many reasons to quit. First he was so sick most of his childhood that apparently he never fully developed in puberty. His voice never changed. People were often surprised to hear a light, soft voice when he spoke. He was slight of build and walked with a stoop. He never could participate in athletics and never married-probably due to his infirmity.
In addition to physical obstacles, he was only allowed to go to a segregated school with a black teacher who barely knew more than his students. Soon Carver outpaced the teacher and was traveling miles away on foot to attend a white school and ultimately college in order to get the education his intellect demanded and deserved. He worked in laundromats not only to pay for college but also secondary school.
In time, he came to be offered many lucrative teaching positions at white universities that paid high salaries but Carver felt it was his duty to teach at Tuskegee and help develop the academic and agricultural skills that his own community needed in order to break the vicious cycle of grinding poverty that afflicted so many of them.
Perry's picture of Carver is very evenhanded. He shows a man with a zeal for the Lord (throughout his career he held Bible studies at Tuskegee that were always packed with students-he fervently believed all progress must be built on “the Rock”: faith in Jesus Christ) and a fiery passion for African Americans to enable them to become skilled and educated so that they could be independent and self sufficient members of society and not be dependent on the state or charity. I believe Carver would be saddened if he were alive today to witness how President Johnston's welfare system has succeeded in sabotaging many of the inroads African Americans had made in this area-not only among the black community but with all races and cultures in our present day society-as the state dole has done in Europe of which we're now seeing the fruits thereof in the riots of London and the bankruptcy of Greece and Ireland)
Still, this fiery man had his blind spots and idiosyncrasies. He worked tirelessly finding hundreds of uses for the sweet potato and the peanut but refused to record his work using a conventional scientific method. This, of course, made it impossible for other scientists to study his work to any measurable degree. Furthermore, he wanted the school to furnish him with a hugely expensive laboratory for his own personal use that did not involve any of his teaching.
Booker T. Washington was the president of Tuskegee at the time and he and Carver butted heads for most of their respective careers. By Perry's account, Washington was the more patient and diplomatic one while Carver was the eccentric, flamboyant scientist who wanted nothing to interfere with his work but insisted on the school paying for it.
One of the most beneficial things Carver did for the black community was act as a spokesman. Carver was friends with President Roosevelt and Henry Ford, both of who supported him and invited him to speak at public gatherings. Apparently Carver was a brilliant and beloved speaker who held his audiences spell bound for hours on end. Yet in most places he traveled to he was subject to segregation and racial slurs. The most impressive attribute Carver showed was his patience and Christian submission to cruelty. His goal was to show black people's equality and abilities through demonstration of that intellect and ability not by angry words.
That is personally a great inspiration to me. How many times have I wanted to give back as I received? Carver was a beacon of Christ's example on earth. Was Jesus not also rejected and despised and even condemned to death, though innocent, yet returned hate with love and cruelty with forgiveness? No doubt at the end of Carver's long life he was greeted by his Savior with “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”
As with the other books in this series, George Washington Carver is an easy, quick, but highly informative and inspiring book that I think people of all cultures would enjoy and benefit by as I did.
I received a complimentary copy of this book by Thomas Nelson pub in exchange for my honest review.