Love and Science
I imaged myself as Mrs. Terris Mae Washington Carver, cooking up sweet potatoes and reading books together with my hubbie in the shade of a big ole pecan tree.
I found out about George Washington Carver in one of my sweeps of the school library at Thompkins Elementary School where I went to hunt down books about “Negroes.” I discovered Harriet Tubman on one of those sweeps, and Langston Hughes, too.
In a book of black and white photos whose placement in an elementary school library full of little negroes could only have been an act of terrorism, I also discovered the ungodly practice of lynching.
But back to my first love, George. I learned that George Washington Carver discovered about a million things that could be made out of peanuts, and about a million more that could be made out of sweet potatoes. I learned that he practically, singlehandedly, saved southern agriculture after the great boll weevil infestation of the early 1920s.
I learned all of this without once thinking of him as a scientist. Somehow the books I read fifty years ago didn’t emphasize that.
“Of course he was a scientist," says my daughter. "Didn’t you see all those test tubes in the background of his pictures?” Maybe I didn’t know what a test tube was in those days, but it never dawned on me that he was a scientist.
I knew he was smart, but I pictured him holding a peanut to his forehead and saying, “Hummm.”
I wish I had known Carver was a scientist. That would have meant a lot to me. I think I would have viewed science from a different perspective. It would have made science more accessible.
I could have been a contender.