Cover

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Contents

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Foreword

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pp. ix-xii

Few prominent figures in U.S. history have become quite so two-dimensional as George Washington Carver. Once "the most widely recognized and admired black man in America," acclaimed for his scientific and technological expertise and lauded as a model of African American achievement, Carver today is relegated to children's textbooks and inspirational literature. I know ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book owes its origins to a conversation I had with Donald Worster nearly a decade ago following his return from a trip that took him through Tuskegee, Alabama. Then a rudderless graduate student at the University of Kansas still contemplating a number of ill-conceived dissertation topics, I had the great fortune to have an adviser who could steer me in ...

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PROLOGUE: Macon County, Alabama, 1896

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pp. 1-7

In the autumn of 1896 George Washington Carver stepped down from a train in Macon County, Alabama. As the only African American then holding an advanced degree in agricultural science, he arrived in the Deep South with a head full of knowledge and a deeply held conviction that God had chosen him to be of service to his people. A native midwesterner, Carver ...

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ONE: Were It Not for His Dusky Skin

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pp. 8-23

Some people develop an appreciation for nature late in life. George Washington Carver was not one of them. He had no mountaintop epiphany, no camping-and-tramping moment of clarity, no sudden awakening at the sight of a cotton field on the boll at sunset. His profound and abiding connection to the natural world was instead rooted and nurtured in his ...

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TWO: The Earnest Student of Nature

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pp. 24-48

When Carver arrived in Ames in 1891, the Iowa Agricultural College was emerging from a low point in the uneven growth that marked its early years. Its origins date to March 1858, when the Iowa legislature created a state agricultural college. The following year the state purchased nearly 650 acres near Ames, and by 1861 the first building had been erected. In 1862 the...

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THREE: The Ruthless Hand of Mr. Carenot

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pp. 49-82

Despite his thorough scientific training, Carver was unprepared in some significant ways for the world he encountered when he stepped down from the train in Macon County, Alabama. As a native of the Midwest, Carver found himself in unfamiliar social, political, and ecological terrain. Understanding that terrain is essential to understanding Carver's environmental ...

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FOUR: In a Strange Land and among a Strange People

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pp. 83-98

After spending virtually all of his life in the Midwest, it is no surprise that in Alabama's Black Belt Carver found himself "in a strange land and among a strange people." 1 The landscape itself was very different from the ones he had previously known. In place of "the golden wheat fields and tall green corn of Iowa" were "acres of cotton, nothing but cotton . . . stunted cattle ...

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FIVE: Teaching the Beauties of Nature

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pp. 99-123

Carver’s campaign to help “his people” began in the classroom, where he sought to train not only good farmers but agricultural emissaries who would take his gospel of scientific agriculture to black communities throughout the region. Risking the displeasure of Washington and lending credence to his critics’ complaints, Carver initially privileged his work with students ...

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SIX: Hints and Suggestions to Farmers

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pp. 124-159

It is perhaps extraordinary that Tuskegee had an experiment station to begin with because it was not a land-grant college when Carver took over the agricultural department in 1896. In 1871, nine years after the passage of the original Morrill Act, Alabama set aside some of the Morrill funds to establish two land-grant colleges, one for whites that opened in Auburn in ...

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SEVEN: The Peanut Man

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pp. 160-178

The World War I years were the best and worst of times for Carver. In the summer of 1914 he was injured in an automobile accident. “This summer I came near loosing [sic] my life, and I am yet unable to see how I could pass through such an ordeal and yet live,” he wrote the Milhollands shortly before Christmas that year. A truck in which he had been riding “turned ...

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EIGHT: Divine Inspiration

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pp. 179-193

Henry A. Wallace’s assessment of Carver’s place in chemistry proved more or less accurate. There is no question that Carver’s legacy as a scientist, especially as an innovative “creative chemist,” has been overblown—a phenomenon rooted in the fact that a number of groups had an interest in bolstering his fame. The peanut industry, the Farm Chemurgic Council, ...

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NINE: Where the Soil Is Wasted

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pp. 194-218

As Carver’s religious devotion to the natural world mounted in his last years, so too did his regret about abandoning the campaign he had initiated following his arrival at Tuskegee. He had come to the Deep South, after all, with the aim of lifting impoverished African American farmers from the slough of tenancy and sharecropping; it was his great purpose, a divinely ...

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EPILOGUE: My Work Is That of Conservation

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pp. 219-226

Forty years after he first stepped down from a train in Macon County, Carver looked back over his career—not only his efforts to improve the lot of impoverished black farmers but his work as a “creative chemist”—and declared, “My work is that of conservation.” In the immediate context of his declaration, he was addressing “the saving of things that the average ...

Notes

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pp. 227-280

Index

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pp. 281-290