George Washington Carver: African-American Scientific Genius Who Was Castrated By His Enslaver

I came uncovered an unusual clip from “Hidden Colors 3,” a popular documentary. Dick Gregory, the famed comedian, writer, and activist, presented a concise evaluation of racism in America in it. He also revealed a shocking fact: George Washington Carver was a victim of castration. 

In the year 1864, George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest scientists, was born into slavery. He invented a number of food products that have since become commonplace in American diets. George Washington Carver, who was never married, devoted much of his time to science and kept himself occupied with a variety of hobbies including knitting, painting, sewing, and, of course, agricultural research.

George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver

Gregory stated that George Washington Carver’s dignity and manhood had been taken from him. The man who enslaved George Washington Carver castrated him when he was a small child. Carver became a house servant, and because he would be spending the majority of his time there, his owner didn’t want him to have sex with his daughter, so he took away his chance of evolving into a full-fledged adult male. What was especially surprising about this narrative was hearing Carver’s actual voice. It was really high-pitched—I have no idea how to explain it.

As a result, I had to conduct research. While some studies claim that Carver’s high-pitched voice was caused by scarring on his throat as a result of contracting whooping cough as a child, others claim that castration was the most likely explanation. When questioned why he wasn’t married, Carver briefly hinted to friends in 1937 that a painful occurrence from his past stopped him from ever marrying or having children, according to Linda O. McMurry’s 1981 book George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol.

He never said what had transpired. Carver’s key body parts were removed by a “Dr. Dick,” according to authors Harley Flack and Edmund D. Pellegrino in their 1992 book African-American Perspectives on Biomedical Ethics. According to the writers, Carver was only 11 years old at the time.

George Washington Carver was put through the castration procedure by his enslaver because he “wanted a new house staff and companion for his daughter,” according to the writers. More proof came from biographer Peter Burchard, who stated that castration was a factor in an interview with Iowa Public Radio in 2010.

According to Burchard, a close friend of Carver met with the doctors who examined him after his death, and they confirmed that there was scar tissue where there should’ve been testicles. 

Carver’s voice never fully developed, maybe due to a lack of adequate male hormone development.

People assumed he was gay for the majority of his life. He courted a woman named Sarah L. Hunt for three years at one point. However, historians believe the union lasted until she moved to California to teach. 

The Legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver

Research Scientist Extraordinaire, Inventor, Man of Faith, Educator, and Humanitarian

George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist and inventor who created hundreds of foods using peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans. Carver, who was born into slavery a year before it was abolished, left home at an early age to pursue an education, eventually earning a master’s degree in agricultural science from Iowa State University. He went on to teach and conduct research at Tuskegee University for decades, and his childhood house was deemed a national monument shortly after his death – the first of its type to honor an African American.

Early Years of George Washington Carver

Carver was born on a farm near Diamond, Missouri, on an uncertain date, but it’s likely he was born either in January or June of 1864.

Moses Carver, a white farm owner, had bought George Carver’s mother Mary when she was 13 years old, nine years before.  Carver, his mother, and his sister were stolen from the Carver farm when he was a child by one of the slave-raiding bands that ravaged Missouri during the Civil War era. Kentucky was where they were sold.

Moses Carver paid a neighbor to rescue them, but the neighbor only found George, who he purchased by exchanging one of Moses’ best horses. Carver grew up with little knowledge of his mother or father.

Moses and Susan Carver adopted George and his brother James as their own children, teaching them to read and write.

James abandoned his studies to work in the fields with Moses. Susan taught George how to cook, repair, embroider, do laundry, and garden, as well as how to make rudimentary herbal treatments.

Carver was fascinated by plants since he was a child, and he experimented with natural pesticides, fungicides, and soil conditioners. Because of his ability to detect how to restore the health of local farmers’ gardens, fields, and orchards, he became known as “the plant doctor.”

Education of George Washington Carver

Carver left the farm at the age of 11 to attend an all-Black school in Neosho, a nearby town.

Andrew and Mariah Watkins, a childless African American couple, took him in and provided him with a roof over his head in exchange for assistance with home chores. Mariah, a midwife, and nurse shared with Carver her extensive knowledge of therapeutic herbs as well as her strong faith.

Carver relocated to Kansas two years later, dissatisfied with his schooling at the Neosho school, and joined a slew of other African Americans heading west.

Carver spent the next ten years or so moving throughout the Midwest, putting himself through school and surviving on the domestic skills he learned from his foster mothers.

He attended Highland College in Kansas after graduating from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas, in 1880. He was first accepted to the all-white college but was later turned down after the administration discovered he was African-American.

Carver encountered the Milhollands, a white couple from Winterset, Iowa, in the late 1880s, who pushed him to pursue higher study. Despite his previous setback, he enrolled at Simpson College, a Methodist institution that accepted all qualified candidates.

Carver studied art and piano with the intention of becoming a teacher, but one of his professors, Etta Budd, doubted that a Black man could make a living as an artist. Budd urged Carver to apply to the Iowa State Agricultural School (now Iowa State University) to study botany after learning about his interests in plants and flowers.

George Washington Carver is a significant figure in African-American history

Carver earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1894, making him the first African American to do so. Carver’s teachers were so impressed with his research on fungal diseases in soybean plants that they asked him to stay on for graduate school.

Carver honed his expertise in recognizing and treating plant diseases at the Iowa State Experimental Station, where he studied with renowned mycologist (fungal scientist) L.H. Pammel.

Carver graduated from Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama in 1896 with a Master of Agriculture degree and immediately received several offers, the most appealing of which came from Booker T. Washington (whose last name George would later be added to his own) of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University).

If Tuskegee was to retain its all-Black faculty, Washington persuaded the university’s trustees to establish an agriculture school, which could only be headed by Carver. Carver accepted the invitation and would spend the remainder of his life at Tuskegee Institute.

Tuskegee Institute’s George Washington Carver

Carver’s first years at Tuskegee were fraught with difficulties.  For one thing, agriculture instruction was unpopular in the South, where farmers assumed they already understood how to farm and students saw schooling as a way to avoid working in the fields. Many faculty colleagues also despised Carver’s exorbitant pay and need for two dormitory rooms, one for himself and the other for his plant specimens.

Carver also struggled with the demands of his profession as a professor. He intended to spend his time researching agriculture and finding ways to aid poor Southern farmers, but he also had to manage the school’s two farms, teach, make sure the school’s bathrooms and sanitary facilities were in good working order, and serve on a number of committees and councils.

 When Washington died in 1915 and was succeeded by Robert Russa Moton, Carver was relieved of his teaching duties with the exception of summer school.

George Washington Carver’s Inventions

Carver had already achieved significant success in the laboratory and in the community at this point. He showed poor farmers how to feed hogs acorns instead of commercial feed and use swamp muck instead of fertilizers to enhance crops.

Crop rotation, which he proposed, proved to be extremely beneficial.

Carver discovered that years of producing cotton had depleted soil nutrients, resulting in low yields, through his soil chemistry research. The soil may be regenerated by planting nitrogen-fixing plants like peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, allowing yields to skyrocket when the site was reintroduced to cotton use a few years later.

To aid farmers, even more, he created the Jessup wagon, a mobile (horse-drawn) school and laboratory for demonstrating soil chemistry. 

George Washington Carver – The Peanut Man

Farmers, understandably, were ecstatic with the large yields of cotton they were now receiving as a result of Carver’s crop rotation approach. However, the process resulted in an overabundance of peanuts and other non-cotton goods, which was unintended.

Carver got to work on finding a new use for these items. He invented a variety of sweet potato-based products, including culinary items like flour and vinegar as well as non-food items like stains, dyes, paints, and writing ink.

Carver’s greatest success, though, was with peanuts.

Milk, Worcestershire sauce, punches, cooking oils and salad oil, paper, cosmetics, soaps, and wood stains are among the more than 300 gastronomic, industrial, and commercial goods he invented from peanuts. He also experimented with antiseptics, laxatives, and goiter treatments made from peanuts.

In 1921, Carver testified before the United States House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the peanut business, which was seeking tariff relief. Despite a rocky start, he went on to describe the enormous diversity of products that can be manufactured from peanuts, earning him a standing ovation and convincing the committee to adopt a high protected tariff for the common legume.

He was thus dubbed “The Peanut Man.”

The Notoriety and Legacy of George Washington Carver

Carver was a modest celebrity for the last two decades of his life, but he was always focused on helping others.

He visited the South to promote racial tolerance and Mahatma Gandhi in India to address nutrition in developing countries.

He also published public bulletins till the year of his death (44 bulletins between 1898 and 1943). Many of the newsletters were more practical in character and featured cultivation advice for farmers, science for instructors, and recipes for housewives, among other things.

When the poliovirus ravaged across America in the mid-1930s, Carver became certain that peanuts were the answer. He provided a treatment of peanut oil massage and recorded favorable outcomes.

Carver died at Tuskegee Institute on January 5, 1943, after falling down the stairs at his home. He was 78 years old at the time. On the Tuskegee Institute grounds, Carver was buried next to Booker T. Washington.

Soon after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation designating Carver as the recipient of his own monument, an honor previously reserved for only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In Diamond, Missouri, the George Washington Carver National Monument presently exists. Carver was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame after his death.

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