book report: George Washington Carver by John Perry (2011)
John Perry has contributed to Thomas Nelson's Christian Encounters series with a new biography on George Washington Carver. Carver's life is fascinating. Born at the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri into slavery, orphaned when he and his mother were kidnapped by slavers, raised by the childless couple who owned him and his brother as free children. Being a sickly child, possibly due to being born prematurely, kept him near the house and out of hard labor, allowing his brilliant mind and keen observation skills to blossom. He withstood racism his entire life, when his merits preceded him, earning him a welcome, only to be rescinded when his presence revealed the melanin levels in his skin.
The author, John Perry, brings a beneficial extra perspective to this biography as he has previously written about the life of Booker T. Washington, the great African American statesman who hired Carver to Tuskegee Institute, which he presided over. Their dynamic was fiery. Carver would feel slighted and threaten to leave and Washington would find a way to pacify him. This recurred frequently, over decades. Although a devout Christian, Carver was proud and thin-skinned with his peers. To his students, however, he was an inspiration, a confidante, a mentor, and a spiritual leader.
He believed his merits would enable the racist white culture of America look past his skin color. Over and over again, those whites who did not know him, treated him as less than human, but those whites who did know him, treated him with great respect. But he could only win one audience at a time, and only to himself. He could not convince white America to treat every dark skinned person with the respect they expected for themselves, despite their Christian culture. It is a sad commentary on our culture that it would not freely give respect, but that it had to be demanded and fought in the courts and in acts of civil disobedience. When great men like George Washington Carver tried to live a life of respect, it was appreciated, but hardly embraced by whites.
This book is a great reflection on the scientist, painter, horticulturist, and peace maker who happened to be of African descent, born into chains. But in the background, it's also about the God he loved who redeemed such an evil situation.