A book about the peanut guy
Not the Planters one though, the other guy.
There are some figures in American history that you know about tangentially, but probably haven’t heard all the details on their lives or careers. For me, one such man was George Washington Carver, the famous scientist who came up with 69,420 different uses for peanuts and their component parts.
I decided to read a book on the man so I’d have a better idea of what he really was about. Separate the facts from the popular myths, and so on. One of my audiobook services had this included for free, and it was 5 hours, so I jumped in.
First things first: he was born to a slave woman named Mary in Missouri. While he was still an infant, Mary was kidnapped by “bushwhackers” (raiders) who presumably took her to resell her somewhere else. This was right smack in the middle of the Civil War, about 40 miles from the Confederate border, in a town that often got hit by such raids.
Mary’s owners, Moses and Sarah Carver, were able to recover infant George, but Mary was never found. They raised George on their own, as they were unable to have kids. They themselves were abolitionists but you couldn’t just buy a slave and then free them all across the country in those days, no matter what the holy pronouned keyboard warriors of the 21st Century prefer to Reeeeee at you.
You can pay to support the CrackerStack, or just read it for free. I’d prefer money but whatever.
Anyway, George was a smart kid, and very thrifty. Things that people threw away, he learned how to repurpose into other things. He also found a lot of uses for plant parts that farmers discarded. He worked his way through various schools, and had to bounce around from place to place depending on which institutions would teach black students or not.
He didn’t officially have a surname until he needed one for school documents, so he used Moses and Sarah’s name, as they were still good family to him. Later he lived in a town with another George Carver and it cause problems with the local post office, so he threw in a “W” middle initial to distinguish the names. Down the road someone would ask him what it stood for, and he liked “Washington,” and that’s where his full name came from.
Freaking nuts. People out here changing or coming up with their LEGAL NAMES about as coherently as I make social media handles. What a wild time.
Anyway, the peanut thing came into being when he was at the Tuskegee Institute in Iowa. One of his post-Civil War jobs was to teach freed slaves and homesteaders how to grow different crops on their government-issued farms. (Surprisingly most black people only knew how to grow cotton, isn’t that weird?)
When a weevil threatened to obliterate cotton crops, he told farmers to switch to peanuts and legumes, which also grew well in the South. Suddenly a ton of farmers had no idea what to do with all those peanuts, so Tinkering George sat in his lab and tore apart a bunch of plants until he found hundreds and hundreds of uses for all the parts—including synthetic oils, milks, butter, and even paving tiles. Dude had brains.
Anyway, this was a good little book that works as a starting point for studying GWC’s life. I liked it. I’d read a longer bio of him if I came across one. Check it out.