Day 119 – Dothan, AL – Dr. George Washington Carver

One things that really got me excited about Dothan early on was its self proclaimed status as, “The Peanut Capital of the World” and if you look at a map of peanut fields there sure are a lot of them surrounding the city, which is in the extreme southeast corner of the state. This year the 71st Peanut Festival is taking place from Oct 31st to Nov 9th and I’m sad to be missing it. You see, I love all things peanuts: butter, boiled, candied, roasted, in a salad, cooked with meat, made into a sauce, etc. I also think they are funny looking and easily give rise to anthropomorphizing while never actually being a nut. Pealegume just doesn’t have the same ring to it though does it?

In addition to being known for Peanuts, Dothan is also known for having lots of murals and I’ve taken pictures of many of them (see below). Of course there is one dedicated to peanuts and on the far left side is a larger than life image of Dr. George Washington Carver in his chemistry lab contemplating the contents of a flask he’s holding in his hand. I remember hearing that name before, but I did not remember its significance. Yes, it has some to do with peanuts, but it seems there’s much more to Dr. Carver. He was born into slavery sometime in 1864 and by the time of his death in 1943 he seemed to be one of the most famous and respected black men in America.

He is credited with inventing hundreds of uses for peanuts and researching crop rotation to maintain soil quality – specifically related to increasing cotton production on depleted soil. He also popularized improved farming techniques through a series of bulletins and the creation of a mobile classroom he called a Jesup Wagon, after it’s benefactor, that travelled around to area farms. Dr. Carver was also the head of the Agricultural Department at the Tuskegee Institute at its creation and in 1921 gave well received expert testimony to the House Weighs and Means Committee to get tariffs passed on imported peanuts.

There have been many books written about Dr. Carver as he seemed to be a man that defied easy classification. He was a scientist, but also a man of strong faith and deeply integrated the two in his quest for knowledge. Although highly successful, he didn’t seem to care much about money or profiting financially from his research and discoveries. He also seemed to ruffle a lot of feathers at the Tuskegee Institute, often clashing with Booker T. Washington, its founder, and his administrative demands.

Although Dr. Carver was born in Diamond, Missouri where there is a monument, taught at the Tuskegee Institute for 50 years that is home to his archive, and museum there is also a converted Greyhound Bus Depot in Dothan that houses the George Washington Carver Interpretive Museum. Currently the museum consists of a small room dedicated to his life and achievements, a timeline of important African-American figures and events in history starting with Egypt and going up to the present day, a section dedicated to black Scientists, Inventory and Explorers and a striking series of mixed media paintings of freedom rider mug shots by Charlotta Janssen.

I think they’ve done a nice job of communicating a lot of inspiring information without having access to the many artifacts that populate the other Carver institutions. To aid in learning museum goers are given a fact scavenger hunt to fill out. I was also excited to hear that they have a Discovery Zone Classroom where they demonstrate science experiments to K-12 students.

I think it is really important to publicize the diversity of scientific achievement so that young people can learn about and identify with the women and men from many different walks of life that have made notable achievements. While I was visiting there was a black family taking in the exhibit as part of their daughters birthday celebration and I got a chance to talk with staff member Tiffany. In addition to working at the museum and teaching at local private school, she also gives presentations in area schools about the life and work of Dr. Carver to inspire students to reach their own potential. In the brief time I spoke with Tiffany it was easy to see the passion she has as an educator.

I got a 100% on my scavenger hunt and had my eyes opened to a whole bunch of fascinating people that I’m interested to learn more about.