By Robin Fjelstad
DIAMOND, Mo. —
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because some day in life you will have been all these.”
—George Washington Carver
Southwest Missourians do not have far to look for a heroic figure to honor during Black History Month or any other time of the year, for that matter.
A scientist, botanist, educator and inventor, George Washington Carver was born in 1864 — although some dispute the exact day or year — near Diamond. Carver’s mother, a slave, died while he was an infant. Moses and Susan Carver raised him as their own son.
History recalls that Susan Carver taught Carver to read and encouraged his pursuit of higher education. Diamond schools at that time did not admit black children, but Carver learned that there was a school in Neosho, just 10 miles south, that did. He decided to go there when he was about 11 years old. It was there he was first called George Carver.
In Neosho, Carver lived with Mariah and Andrew Watkins. Mariah Watkins had great influence on him, according to the history books. She was a midwife and nurse who had extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs, and she was deeply religious. It was his first experience with organized religion, but his years spent roaming the woods and studying nature on the Carver farm had already familiarized him with the Creator.
One of Carver’s famous quotes says, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
The Newton County Historical Society will hold the 14th annual Black History Program from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Newton County Historical Park — Schoolhouse, 121 N. Washington St.
More details about Carver’s life will be presented by Curtis Gregory from the George Washington Carver National Monument.
The national park in Diamond compasses the 240-acre Carver farm and is the first national park dedicated to an African-American. School children from all over the Four-State Area arrive on buses at the monument weekly for tours.
Not only do they learn about the scientist, but also participate in scientific experiments in a well-equipped laboratory on site. The National Park Service provides a twice-daily, guided walking tour for the public, which is both stroller and wheelchair friendly. Visitors are welcome to take a self-guided tour anytime during park hours. Public events are held throughout the year honoring Carver and a bygone lifestyle.
The second week of February 1926 was selected for the celebration of Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black American population: President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14), an escaped slave turned abolitionist, and respected author and orator.
In 1976, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month and is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans.
Robin Fjelstad is a Missouri Southern State University communications major and lives in Goodman. She is the recipient of the Rebekah Hughes Scholarship and works as an intern for The Joplin Globe.