Scientist. Educator. Conservationist. Artist. Humanitarian. George Washington Carver was all these things and more. Adding to his list of accolades, George Washington Carver is the inaugural recipient of IFT’s Include Award, which recognizes the work of an individual or organization to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the science of food.
Born into slavery in 1864, Carver had a tumultuous start in life. After being kidnapped with his mother at one week old, he was returned to the Carver home where his parents were once enslaved and would spend his early years there. He had a yearning for knowledge at a young age that would become a driving force throughout his life. Despite the many challenges of getting an education for a Black boy in the South in the late 1800s, Carver eventually pieced together a high school education, graduating from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas, in 1880.
After being turned away from Highland College because he was Black, Carver pursued his interest in art and music at Simpson College before being encouraged to enroll in the botany program at the Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). His graduate studies in plant pathology were the beginning of a prolific career that would lead him back to the South to run the agricultural department at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1896.
Rooted in Purpose
Carver has been quoted as saying, “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.” Carver’s commitment to service was evident in his teaching and research. He was dedicated to helping Southern farmers, particularly African Americans suffering from the oppression of racism and poverty, to improve their lives.
Among his scientific accomplishments were:
Perhaps even greater was his contribution to making the food system more just. Carver made a significant impact on the world by helping impoverished farmers vary their diets, learn new cultivation techniques, and become self-reliant. He believed strongly that his God-given mission in life was to help improve the lives of poor Black and White farmers. He once said, “It has always been the one ideal of my life to be the greatest good to the greatest number of my people possible.” He lived these words every day through his teaching, research, and care for his fellow man.
His Legacy Lives On
At Tuskegee University, faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences located in the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences, continue to hold the legacy of George Washington Carver in high regard. Named in his honor, the George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station has more than 60 scientists conducting a myriad of research activities involving plant systems, animal systems, food and nutrition, environmental systems, and sustainability rural and economic development.
At the university, the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences also hosts a biennial George Washington Carver lecture series, manages two endowed scholarship programs to advance the science of food, and its International Food and Nutrition Conference in Carver’s honor. In the food science teaching programs, much of the work on sweet potatoes in sensory evaluation, product research innovation and sensory evaluation of food (products produced were sweet potato tots, sweet potato pizza dough, sweet potato tea, etc.) and organic farming classes use old ‘Carver’ varieties in addition to new sweet potato varieties.
A national monument in Carver’s honor was established on July 14, 1943 in Newton County, Missouri, where Carver lived as a child. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt donated $30,000 for its erection. He was the first African American to have a national monument dedicated to him. Additionally, a life-sized sculpture of Carver appears outside Iowa State University’s Seed Science Center and recognition of his work is on display in Washington, D.C., at the USDA’s George Washington Carver Center.
IFT’s Include Award
As an organization striving for inclusivity, the Include Award is a meaningful way to recognize and celebrate those individuals or organizations whose actions and behaviors exemplify the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Learn more about the Include Award.
Special thanks to Dr. Ralphenia D. Pace, professor emeritus Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at Tuskegee University, for sharing her knowledge about George Washington Carver’s impact on the science of food and his community. Dr. Pace worked at Tuskegee University for 42 years, as Assistant Dean of the College for eight years, Head of Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences for more than 20 years, and Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics for more four years, and raised approximately $5 million in grants and endowments. Her scientific research was in cardiovascular disease, antioxidants and sweet potato green research. She is an IFT member and a registered dietitian licensed in the state of Alabama.
Biography.com Editors. “George Washington Carver.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 23 June 2020, http://www.biography.com/scientist/george-washington-carver
Iowa PBS. "George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Life." Online video. YouTube, YouTube, 8 May 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3CVmluYFtI
Kaufman, Rachel. “In Search of George Washington Carver’s True Legacy.” Smithsonian Magazine, 21 Feb. 2019, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/search-george-washington-carvers-true-legacy-180971538/
Tuskegee University. "Carver Bulletins." https://www.tuskegee.edu/support-tu/george-washington-carver/carver-bulletins
Tuskegee University. "The Legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver." https://www.tuskegee.edu/support-tu/george-washington-carver