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the George Washington Carver

Inspiring Off the Beaten Path: The George Washington Carver Memorial in Diamond, MO

The George Washington Carver Memorial in Diamond, MO

By TOM & PATTI BURKETT

Here are a few things we learned at the George Washington Carver Memorial in Diamond, MO.

In 1932, George Washington Carver was invited to speak to the United States Congress, which at the time was considering a tariff on imported peanuts. Members expected a backward Southern farmer and made watermelon jokes. Instead, they got a respected college professor and scientist with hundreds of public appearances to his credit.  

We sill think of Carver as the peanut man but, in fact, he was much more, as we learned at the George Washington Carver Memorial in Diamond, Missouri. In western Missouri, a few miles east of Interstate 49, the memorial includes a working replica of his laboratory at Tuskegee Institute and a replica of the log cabin in which he was born just before the start of the Civil War. It’s surrounded by the fields in which he grew up, first a slave, and then an adopted child of the Carver family.

When he was growing up he secretly collected wild plants, which he transplanted into a secret garden, where he nurtured and sketched them. He wrangled a place at Simpson College as an art student, where he did laundry to make ends meet. Of those days, he said, “I lived on prayer and beef suet and cornmeal, quite often being without the suet and meal.” He went on to study botany at Iowa State University, where he was the first black student and, later, the first black faculty member.

Department of Agriculture at Tuskegee Institute

Booker T. Washington invited Carver to head the Department of Agriculture at Tuskegee Institute in 1896, and he taught there for the next 47 years.  He focused his work on ways to restore soils depleted by many years of growing cotton. His use of crop rotation—alternating cotton with crops like peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas—helped many farmers survive the lean years following the Civil War. In 1920, he spoke at the 1920 convention of the United Peanut Associations and exhibited 145 peanut products. Segregation was in full force when Carver was invited to address the House Ways and Means Committee in 1922, but his compelling and articulate testimony assured the protection US peanut growers were looking for against Chinese imports.

At the visitor center, you get the opportunity to walk through the life of this interesting man. The visitor center film can also be seen online. You’ll get to look at many artifacts from Carver’s life, including some of his renowned herbarium specimens and a variety of the products he developed. Excerpts and discussion from his work in plant breeding provide an insight into the attitudes of his time, including the fact that plant hybridizations were discouraged by some religious leaders because it interfered with God’s plan for the Earth.

The grounds of the museum are delightful to walk, so long as the temperature is moderate, and there’s a nice big, shady picnic area in the parking area.

Nearby Explorations

Nearby you can visit the World’s Largest Small Appliance Museum and the Precious Moments Chapel. And don’t miss the Kan-O -Tex service station in Galena, Kansas. This is rich territory for exploration, so allow some time in your schedule to meander along the back roads and see what else you might find out here, off the beaten path.

More Off the Beaten Path Reports

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