DIAMOND, Mo. — George Washington Carver was a man of many talents — “inventor,” “agricultural scientist” and, as Time magazine dubbed him in 1941, a genius in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci.
But you can add another accolade to the end of his name — “man of faith.” It’s a much less publicized aspect of his otherwise very public life, when compared with his revolutionizing cultivation of soil-enriching crops, such as peanuts and soybeans, from depleted cotton soil, for example, or discovering 100-plus uses for the sweet potato and 300 uses for the peanut.
Regardless, Carver believed he could harbor a deep faith in both God and in science — as equals — and he successfully integrated the two during his 79 years on Earth.
“Faith was a huge part of his life,” said Valerie Baldwin, a park ranger at the national monument. “(He) would make the time to attend church and, every morning, go for a walk in the woods to communicate with the creator.”
Baldwin will be discussing the famed scientist’s deep Christian faith during two discussions from 1 to 2 p.m. today and Sunday at the Carver National Monument in Newton County.
Carver’s deep Christian faith “was as much a part of who he was as his desire to get an education and … to help people,” Baldwin said. “Every one of us have characteristics that make up who we are. Some have faith as a huge part of their lives, others may not. But that is what makes each of us so special.”
Carver became a Christian as a young boy, at the age of 10. Even at that young age, he had already lived a lifetime of stress, born as an American slave on the Moses Carver farm and surviving a kidnapping by Arkansas night raiders when he was just an infant; even growing up in a deeply segregated world, with few black schools available in the south, he thrived, particularly spiritually.
Simple fact is, his studies of nature that convinced him of the existence and benevolence of the Creator.
In 1931, he wrote about his conversion in a letter to Isabelle Coleman:
“There isn’t much of a story to it. God just came into my heart one afternoon while I was alone in the ‘loft’ of our big barn while I was shelling corn to carry to the mille to be ground into meal.
"A dear little white boy, one of our neighbors, about my age came by one Saturday morning, and in talking and playing he told me he was going to Sunday school tomorrow morning. I was eager to know what a Sunday school was. He said they sang hymns and prayed. I asked him what prayer was and what they said. I do not remember what he said; only remember that as soon as he left I climbed up into the 'loft,' knelt down by the barrel of corn and prayed as best I could. I do not remember what I said. I only recall that I felt so good that I prayed several times before I quit.
“My brother and myself were the only colored children in that neighborhood and of course, we could not go to church or Sunday school of any kind.
“This was a simple conversion,” he wrote, “and I have tried to keep the faith.”
Carver often attributed many of his greatest discoveries and successes not to science but to God. The great botanist “was a humble man who truly believed that all of his greatness came from the creator,” Baldwin said.
Carver died Jan. 5, 1943. The epitaph on his grave on the Tuskegee University campus summarizes the life and character of this former slave, man of science, and man of God: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”