During the 14th annual Black History Month program, "It's A Celebration," held Sunday at the one-room schoolhouse on the grounds of the Newton County Historical Park, the estimated 45 people in attendance received a history lesson about George Washington Carver.
"I have a little presentation that I am going to present to you about who George Washington Carver was, but it is through photographs," said Curtis Gregory, a park ranger with the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond. "We are very fortunate at GWC National Monument to have a lot of different photographs on George."
Gregory's program was titled "Who was George Washington Carver?"
"In the 1830s, there was a couple by the name of Moses and Susan Carver, they were living in Illinois and they wanted to start a new life in this part of the country," he said. "They packed up everything they had and moved to Diamond, they settled in 1835 or so. Where we are located at, they started a little farm at. Moses was a farmer, he farmed a lot of different crops: Corn, wheat, potatoes and all sorts of crops for about 20 years or so. Our part of the story started about 20 years after the Carvers came. In 1855, for some odd reason, Moses purchased one enslaved girl by the name of Mary."
Mary was about 13 at the time that she was purchased by the Carvers. And actually, to this day, the monument has a copy of the bill of sale for Mary.
Fast forward a few years and George was born.
"She had George when she was about maybe 20 or so," Gregory said. "We are not for sure of the birthday of George, we believe he was born between 1860-1864. He didn't know when he was born."
George did have an older brother, Jim, who also stayed on the farm for a number of years.
In his early teens, George decided he wanted an education.
"Then George wanted to get an education, there was a local school in Diamond Grove which George and Jim couldn't go to that school because of their color," said Gregory. "And so, George found out there was a school here in Neosho. So he decided that he would leave about the age of 12, 13 maybe 14 that he would start on that journey and that was the journey that started his formal education."
Gregory told the story of when George did attend Neosho's school that he stayed with Andrew and Mariah Watkins. And through the photographs, Gregory continued on with Carver's education including college.
"In 1894, he graduated from Iowa State, the first black to graduate from Iowa State, stayed there for two years later got a master's degree from Iowa State, the first black to receive a master's degree from Iowa State as well," Gregory said.
Page 2 of 3 - "He was a teacher assistant and they wanted him to stay there to teach."
But in 1896, a man by the name of Booker T. Washington found out about Carver and offered him a teaching job at
Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala.
"Washington started Tuskegee in 1881, an industrial vocational school for individuals, freed slaves and others in Tuskegee," he said. "He wanted George to start his agriculture department."
George accepted the position and was there until his death on Jan. 5, 1943, where he is buried.
Through the years, Carver met a lot of famous people including Henry Ford and Franklin D. Roosevelt, to name a few.
"George became really famous in 1921, George went before the Ways and Means Committee in Washington DC, for a peanut tariff on behalf of the peanut growers," he said.
In July 1943, Congress designated George Washington Carver National Monument, which was the first park to honor an African-American scientist, educator and humanitarian.
"It took about 10 years to acquire the land," said Gregory. "In 1953, the dedication of the GWC National Monument. This year, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the park."
After the presentation, Gregory answered a few questions and then those in attendance were treated to refreshments. Also during the program, there was singing by the choir at Neosho's Second Baptist Church and also the Community Choir of Joplin.
About Black History Month
February is a federally recognized, nation-wide celebration that provides the opportunity for all Americans to reflect on the significant roles that African Americans have played in the shaping of the United States history. Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) founded Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson is considered to be a pioneer in the study of African American history. The son of former slaves, Woodson spent his childhood working in coal mines and quarries. He received his education during the four-month term that was customary for black schools at the time. At the age of 19, having taught himself English fundamentals and arithmetic, Woodson entered high school, where he completed a four-year curriculum in two years. He later went onto the University of Chicago receiving his master's degree and then onto Harvard for his PhD.
In 1926, Woodson developed Negro History Week. He believed that "the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization."
Woodson chose the second week of February for the celebration because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black American population: Frederick Douglass (February 14), an escaped slave who became one of the foremost black abolitionists and civil rights leaders in the nation, and President Abraham Lincoln (February 12), who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in America's confederate states.
Page 3 of 3 - In 1976, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month.