George Washington Carver read again the letter he received from Booker T. Washington, the principle of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, offering him a position as the director of the schools agricultural department. This was actually the second job offer he had received to teach and conduct research – the first offer coming from Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Mississippi – even though he hadn’t actually graduated from Iowa State College yet.
As the first African-American to received a master’s degree in Agriculture, and the only graduate degree holder at Tuskegee, George felt a swell of pride in being offered the position and said as much in his response back to Mr. Washington. However, George had a difficult decision to make.
Only a few short years earlier, George had started school at Iowa State, after having been declined from a Kansas school when they found out he was black. Iowa State hadn’t been much more accommodating either at first, but after years of hard work, he was not only accepted, but respected in the white school. George had been raised by a white couple, had white friends and now was integrated into white society as well as any African-American could hope for in 1896. He wasn’t ignorant of the race problem, far from it. He had witnessed plenty of atrocities throughout his life. But his assimilation was a success he deserved to enjoy. In fact, Iowa State had also told George he would be welcome to stay at the college and a place would be made available for him.
But the first two opportunities were to teach and work at schools for black people in Mississippi and Alabama. George knew that most of the African American’s in the US at that time were slaves to their ignorance and a social system that wasn’t fair to the negro race. While George had found a way to succeed in the white man’s world, he knew someday he wanted to help his people.
As his graduate studies were coming to a close, George had to decide what he would do. Would he stay and continue his research at Iowa, where facilities, resources and opportunities were better? Or should he sacrifice this familiar and friendly life for one that was full of risk and uncertainty?
George did accept the position with Tuskegee, where he would spend the rest of his career and life serving “the lowest man.” While he wasn’t always happy with the circumstances he had at the school, he was respected and loved by many of the students that he taught.
George wasn’t just there to give knowledge, he was there to initiate discovery and learning. He was a gifted scientist that made his students work for the answers. He laughed with his students. He ate with them. He looked at their problems and worked with them to come up with a solution.
George also discovered new problems by taking the Tuskegee position. In Iowa, the soil wasn’t as depleted as it was in the cotton country of the South. So Carver set about discovering and then sharing solutions with farmers to diversify, reduce waste, and improve their soils and farms. He taught all farmers, not just students, about beneficial plants and cheap, plentiful fertilizers to improve productivity on their farms. These lessons helped thousands of farmers, especially in the food shortages around the World Wars and Depression. A measure of his ultimate success came from reaching out to lift others.
George Washington Carver became a renown scientist, not because he stayed where it was comfortable, but because he sought to help others. He went where they were and helped them find solutions to their problems.
What skills do you possess? What resources do you have that can help others? Who is out there that you can help? That last question is probably hardest to answer until you start looking. Rest assured that there are others out there that need your talents and abilities. And, as is usually the case, you will find greater satisfaction and learn more from helping others than from helping yourself. Take some time to look beyond yourself and see who you can help – not just by giving them a fish, but by teaching them to set the lure and cast the line.