Albion Interactive History / People / George Carver

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / People / Starr Commonwealth

George Washington Carver
Famous Agrochemist


One day Starr read an article about George Washington Carver and knew at once that he wanted to have him on campus. From what one can infer, Starr recognized that Carver embodied virtually all the principles he had laid down in the 1913 Creed.

Originally Starr hoped that Dr. Carver could highlight a gala Founder’s Day that October 1939. As he wrote A.W. Curtis,Carver’s assistant at Tuskegee Institute, “We had invited him to give and address of dedication this fall when three of our new buildings are to be opened to the public.” In deference to Dr. Carver’s recent release from the hospital after a prolonged bout with scarlet fever, Starr secured someone else for the dedication. He added however, “We are not willing to give up on Dr. Carver.”

That autumn the famed agrochemist learned that he was invited to go to New York City to receive the Theodore Roosevelt Gold Medal in creative science, hence he could visit the Commonwealth en route on his return to Alabama. When the HenryFord invited him to stop over in Dearborn as well, the inducements were too many – he would come to Michigan.

Undoubtedly it was the Starr boys themselves who were the chief inducements. As early as June Dr. Carver wrote, “I am enthusiastic to see them,” and throughout his five-day visit he gave of himself unstintingly to his young friends. Though he did rest frequently in the guest room atHillside, he spent much time in the classrooms and at meals. Often he rode about the campus in a wheelchair, “viewing the buildings, studying and offering advice on education methods, and talking with groups of boys.”

Carver was rarely the typical guest. Reared in poverty, in part he judged an institution like the commonwealth by its thrift. In mid-afternoon his first day he asked to visit the school’s commissary. Quite as he anticipated, there was a pair of boyspeeling potatoes for the evening meal. To everyone’s surprise, Carver pushed his wheel chair over beside the boys and picked up a few parings. With the others, Uncle Floyd was puzzled. “Is something wrong with our potatoes?” he asked anxiously.

Carver looked up, a smile on his wrinkled face. “No,” he replied, “they’re fine. What I was checking was the thickness of the pairings. If they’re so think you’re wasting potatoes, you’re probably wasting more important things too. These are OK – the peelings are nice and thin.”

Upon occasion a wily Carver liked to shock his listeners into attention. After dinner at Inglis Cottage one evening, the boys filled into the living room to hearwhat their guest had to say. No sooner were they comfortable than Dr. Carver gazed about the room and announced, “Well, boys, you can all go to hell!” A moment of stunned silence followed. Then he said, “I repeat, you can all go to hell – that is, if you want to.” This was his introduction to a discussion of theology which few of those present ever forgot.

After Dr. Carver and his assistant departed for Tuskegee Institute, all agreed with the editor of the Starr Commonwealth News that his visit had been”one of the finest things which have ever happened to our school.” In his whimsical fashion, the aging peanut farmer hadblended the discipline of science with the elation of discovery, the routine of the practical with the exaltation of the spiritual. For Starr, the visitation was “a modern miracle,” as he commented to one friend. To Carver he wrote, “How I wish it were possible for me to put into words something of whatyour visit meant to these boys, to my co-workers, and to me personally. Everybody on this entire campus was uplifted by your presence. I cannot adequately express my gratitude, not merely for what you have done and what you have said, but for the influence of your Godly life.” Starr concluded his letter, “I sincerely hope that your health will improve day by day and that you may be spared to this country for many years to come.” It was a vain hope. Four years later, George Washington Carver died, still seeking thewhat and why of God’s creations.

Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.

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