His Life at Tuskegee

In the spring of 1896, George W. Carver received a letter from Booker T. Washington, president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama:

Tuskegee Institute seeks to provide education – a means for survival to those who attend. Our students are poor, often starving. They travel miles of torn roads, across years of poverty. We teach them to read and write, but words cannot fill stomachs. They need to learn how to plant and harvest crops….

I cannot offer you money, position or fame. The first two you have. The last, from the place you now occupy, you will no doubt achieve.

These things I now ask you to give up. I offer you in their place – work – hard, hard work – the challenge of bringing people from degradation, poverty and waste to full manhood.

Booker T. Washington 1

On May 16, 1896, George W. Carver responded to Booker T. Washington:

My dear Sir,

I am just in receipt of yours of the 13th inst., and hasten to reply. I am looking forward to a very busy, pleasant and profitable time at your college and shall be glad to cooperate with you in doing all I can through Christ who strengtheneth me to better the condition of our people.

Some months ago I read your stirring address delivered at Chicago and I said amen to all you said, furthermore you have the correct solution to the “race problem”…. Providence permitting, I will be there in Nov.

God bless you and your work,

Geo. W. Carver 2

In the fall of 1896, George surprised the staff at Iowa State College by announcing his plans to give up his promising future there and join the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The staff showed their appreciation by purchasing him a going away present, a microscope, which he used extensively throughout his career. George assembled an Agricultural Department at Tuskegee.

On May 5, 1922, George W. Carver wrote to Dr. Louis H. Pammel:

My dear Dr. Pammel,

In response to your queries of recent date, I beg to reply as follows:

1st. Born at Diamond Grove, Mo., just as freedom was declared, in a little one roomed log shanty on my master, Moses Carver’s farm.

2nd. My education was picked up here and there. Mr. and Mrs. Carver taught me to read, spell and write just a little. I went to Neosho, Mo., public school for about nine months, then to Fort Scott town school, for about the same length of time. From there, I went to Olathe, Kans., where I attended the town public school for about two years.

Leaving there, I went to Minneapolis, Kansas, where I nearly finished my high school work. From here, I went to Indianola, Iowa, to Simpson College, where I took the College work and specialized in art and music.

From here I went to Ames, Iowa, to take a course in Agriculture, persuaded to do so by my art teacher, Miss Etta M. Budd, to whom I am greatly indebted for whatever measure of success that has come to me.

Miss Budd helped me in whatever way she could; often going far out of her way to encourage and see that I had such things as I needed. During my six years in College, her interest in me never waned.

3rd. I do not now recall the exact date.

4th. I did odd jobs of all kinds for a number of the professors such as cutting wood, making gardens, working in the fields, helping clean house, taking care of the green house and the chemical, botanical and bacteriological laboratories.

5th. Came to Tuskegee Institute, and took charge of the Agricultural Department here; kept it about fifteen years, then was given charge of the Agricultural Research work. I have kept this work in connection with the Experiment Station ever since.

6th. I have no words to adequately express my impressions of dear old I.S.C. All I am and all I hope to be, I own in a very large measure to this blessed institution.

7th. “Beardshear,” was one of the biggest and best hearted men I have ever known and it was so pleasant and uplifting to come in contact with him.

“Wilson,” the name Hon. James Wilson is sacred to me. He was one of the finest teachers that it has ever been my privilege to listen to. He taught a Sunday School class in which every student would have enrolled, if they had been allowed.

The class grew so large that he conceived a very unique plan to divide it, so he graduated some twenty or twenty-five of us who had been with him the longest… I happened to be one of the ones graduated. We all left him sad and reluctantly. We gave him to understand, in no uncertain terms, that we did not like it at all and out of our love for him, we went, but in less than two months we were all back again.

Our displeasure grieved him very much and he said to me, many times that he would never try to divide his class again, no matter how large it got.

Being a colored boy, and the crowded condition of the school, made it rather embarrassing for some, and it made the question of a room rather puzzling. Prof. Wilson said, as soon as he heard it, “Send him to me, I have a room,” and he gave me his office and was very happy in doing so.

“Budd” was the father of Miss Etta M. Budd, heretofore mentioned, and my professor of Horticulture and a man much on the order of Prof. Wilson; kind, considerate, loving and loveable; a great teacher, and he made of his students his personal friends. Everybody loved Prof. Budd….

Miss Roberts was a teacher of rare ability. Her chief delight seemed to be that of helping the backward student. And many, many are the men and women today who rise up and call her blessed, for the help she gave them in more ways than one. I take especial delight in registering as one of that number….

Prof. H. Wallace is now Hon. Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. The heights to which he has risen testifies more strongly than any words of mine can. No one missed Prof. Wallace’s class, if they could help it. He was a born teacher, a man too big in heart, mind and soul to be little in any particular. He, like all of my teachers, will never know how much he enthused and inspired me, as a student. 21

On September 2, 1901, George W. Carver wrote from Tuskegee to his friends, John and

Helen Milholland:

I think of you often and shall never forget what you were to my life, how much real help and inspiration you gave me. You, of course, will never know how much you done for a poor colored boy who was drifting here and there as a ship without a rudder. You helped to start me aright and what the Lord has in his kindness and wisdom permitted me to accomplish is due in a very great measure to your real genuine Christian spirits. How I wish the world was full of such people. What a different world it would be….

May God continue to bless and keep you.

Yours very gratefully,

Geo. W. Carver 10

On November 28, 1902, George W. Carver wrote to the President of Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, regarding an unfortunate incident that resulted from the appearance of a

white photographer, Miss Frances B. Johnston, who was traveling the south with a black teacher,

Nelson E. Henry, to gather information on black schools:

Dear Mr. Washington,

I have just returned from a trip to Ramer, Alabama, where Mr. Henry is located, and I feel that you ought to know the exact condition there as it is the most distressing of any that I have ever seen in any place. In fact, I had the most frightful experience of my life there and for one day and night it was a very serious question indeed as to whether I would return to Tuskegee alive or not as the people were thoroughly bent upon bloodshed.

In all probability they have broken up the school. Mr. Henry was obliged to leave Ramer between the suns and the other teacher became so frightened that she left also.

The occasion of the disturbance was Miss Johnston, who went down on the same train that carried me down. The white people evidently knew that she was coming. The train was late in getting there but a number of people had gathered at the station to see what would happen. I took Miss Johnston’s valise and put it in the buggy for her. Mr. Henry drove her to his house and put out her valise and started to the hotel, then he was met by parties and after a few words was shot at three times.

Of course, he ran and got out of the way and Miss Johnston came to the house where I was. I got out at once and succeeded in getting her to the next station where she took the train the next morning.

The next day everything was in a state of turbulency and a mob had been formed to locate Mr. Henry and deal with him. They did not pay a great deal of attention to me as I kept out of the way as much as possible, but it was one of the worst situations that I have ever been it.

As things are now, the school is broken up and there seems to be no way of settling the difficulty. They say that what they want is to get hold of Mr. Henry and beat him nearly to death. I spoke to the people on Wednesday and they were-of course-very much disturbed.

I quieted them down as much as I could – which was very little. I had to walk nearly all night Tuesday night to keep out of their reach. Wednesday night I stayed four miles from the place and took the train six miles from Ramer next morning.

On Wednesday the place was patrolled by a white man walking up and down in front of the school house armed with a shot gun. I went down on Wednesday morning to see just what the situation was and I saw twelve horses saddled and tied to the fence of one of the chief promoters.

He saw me coming down the railroad and at once mounted his horse and came down to meet me. I stopped aside to examine some plants – just to see what he would do – and he came up and eyed me closely and spoke rather politely. He evidently thought I was Mr. Henry.

One of the gentlemen went down town that night to see what was being done and found that a mob was being made up for the night to take Mr. Henry. I succeeded in getting word to Mr. Henry to flee for his life, which he did. He is now in Montgomery.

Mr. Henry gone, they then telephoned over to the next station to see if Miss Johnston took the train the next morning. They wanted to know who took her to the train, and everything in detail.

A telegram was handed to a gentleman, which was evidently a fake – at least appeared so. If was purported to have come for Mr. Henry to induce him to come to the station. It was simply to find out where he was. I have never seen people so enraged.

Mr. Henry was doing a great work there and it grieves me to know that he must give it up. Miss Johnston was thoroughly grieved. I might say that she is the pluckiest woman I ever saw. She was not afraid for herself but shed bitter tears for Mr. Henry and for the school which is in all probability broken up.

They were preparing to have a splendid exhibition. In fact, the material was there and promised to be one of the best exhibitions that I have had the privilege of attending. The exhibits were large and fine and the people seemed very much encouraged.

Now as to the outcome, it is impossible to say. It stands just as I have related it to you. Mrs. Washington and I have talked the matter over here and we think it wise to say just as little as possible about it here. The people seem to be intensely bitter against any one who comes from Tuskegee.

Trusting you are quite well and that you had a pleasant Thanksgiving, I beg to remain,

Yours most sincerely,

G.W. Carver 11

On May 28, 1907, George W. Carver wrote to Booker T. Washington regarding a Bible class he had begun at Tuskegee:

For your information only.

Mr. B.T. Washington,

About three months ago 6 or 7 persons met in my office one evening and organized a Bible class, and asked me to teach it. I consented to start them off. Their idea was to put in the 20 or 25 minutes on Sunday evenings which intervene between supper and chapel service.

We began at the first of the Bible and attempted to explain the Creation story in the light of natural and revealed religion and geological truths. Maps, charts plants and geological specimens were used to illustrate the work.

We have had an ave. attendance of 80 and often as high as 114. Thought these facts would help you in speaking of the religious life of the school. Very truly.

G.W. Carver 12

On January 9, 1922, George W. Carver wrote a thank you note to one of his students, L.

Robinson, who had given him a Christmas present:

Mr. L. Robinson,

I wish to express through you to each member of the Senior class my deep appreciation for the fountain pen you so kindly and thoughtfully gave me Christmas.

This gift, like all the others, is characterized by simplicity and thoughtfulness, which I hope each member will make the slogan of their lives.

As your father, it is needless for me to keep saying, I hope, except for emphasis, that each one of my children will rise to the full height of your possibilities, which means the possession of these eight cardinal virtues which constitutes a lady or gentleman.

1st. Be clean both inside and outside.

2nd. Who neither looks up to the rich or down on the poor.

3rd. Who loses, if needs be, without squealing.

4th. Who wins without bragging.

5th. Who is always considerate of women, children and old people.

6th. Who is too brave to lie.

7th. Who is too generous to cheat.

8th. Who takes his share of the world and lets other people have theirs.

May God help you to carry out these eight cardinal virtues and peace and prosperity be yours through life.

Lovingly yours,

G.W. Carver 19

On December 23, 1914, George W. Carver wrote to John and Helen Milholland, reporting on a car accident he was in and commented on the World War that was raging in Europe:

My dear friends,

I am glad to know that all are well, and am especially thankful that the good Lord has spared me to write to you. This summer I came near losing my life, and I am yet unable to see how I could pass through such an ordeal and yet live. A large auto truck turned with several of us in it. One man was badly mashed up so much that he is yet after 7 months unable to walk. I was pinned down under the truck, badly bruised and cut up but no bones broken.

Every time I pick up a paper, I think of what General Sherman said war was. Words fail to describe the horror and suffering. It is making it very hard here for us. Not much money is coming in and how we will get along God only knows.

I have just learned that 25 girls are nearly barefooted and have not sufficient clothes to keep them decent or warm. Many boys are almost as bad, so we are going to do what we can for them…

Sincerely your friend,

Geo. W. Carver 13

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