The Man Behind Carver Center’s Name

Written By: Sophia Ortiz-Heaney

Located at 400 Westchester Ave, Port Chester, lies Carver Center, a community center and resource for Port Chester residents of all ages. Carver Center was named after George Washington Carver, an African American agricultural scientist active in the late-1800s and early-1900s who died the year Carver Center was founded, in 1943. For 50 years, it served as a small food pantry and a child care program in the basement of a synagogue for minority community members that needed extra resources. Now, Carver Center has expanded those core programs and added on new programs and services, like the swimming classes, citizen class courses for English as a Second Language (ESL) residents, and afterschool programs for students. 

Who is the man this place of learning and support is named after? George Washington Carver was an African American man born in 1864, at the end of the Civil War, in Diamond, Missouri. Although his exact birthdate is unknown, it is known he was born into slavery in Missouri before slavery was abolished in 1865. As a baby, his life was already off to an eventful start. He was kidnapped, along with his sister and mother. Only George was found with the kidnappers when a detective, hired by ex-slave owner Moses Carver, caught up to the kidnappers. He was returned and was raised by Moses Carver and his wife, Susan. Susan taught him how to read and write, and encouraged him to follow his passions. 

Carver wanted to go to school, but the only school in Diamond did not enroll black people, so he traveled 10 miles south to Neosho, Missouri. There, he accidentally met Mariah Watkins, who rented a room for him to stay in. When she asked for his name, he said “Carver’s George,” implying that he was Carver’s possession. She replied that he was now “George Carver” and encouraged his academic pursuits, and use those pursuits to give back to the community. 

Carver was admitted into Highland University in Kansas, but was refused admission upon arrival due to being African American. He took a few years working in agriculture and botany, solidifying his interest in agriculture studies. In 1891, he started at Iowa State as the first black student. Carver completed both his undergrad and masters at Iowa State, and then became their first black faculty member. He started to fulfill his promise to give back to the “community” as Mariah Watkins asked. In 1896, Booker T. Washington desperately tried to get Carver to work as head of Tuskegee Institute’s agriculture department. George W. Carver agreed, and ended up working there for 47 years. 

At Tuskegee Institute, Carver was a researcher and teacher. From 1915 to 1923, Carver began research on new uses of peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and other legumes. Many of these crops have symbiotic relationships with bacterias on their roots that efficiently replenish usable nitrogen to the plants, an element all plants need to grow well. He uses their nitrogen revitalizing ability to help farmers replenish soil after repeated planting of cotton on a rotation. This crop rotation not only helped farmers maintain rich soil and better cotton yields, but also introduced new cash crops that could be eaten or used by the African American farmers. He promoted the use of a crop rotation system by developing an agriculture extension system for Alabama and distributed recipes using the alternative crops to farmers to help balance their nutrition.

George W. Carver was an extreme advocate for peanuts. He discovered and published three-hundred different ways peanuts could be used, including as body lotion, paper, four, insulation, soap, wood statins, etc. Due to his peanut advocacy, he helped the U.S government issue a tariff on imported peanuts to help national farmers in 1922. This was a highly unusual sight for Congress to consult an African American in the segregation period. 

George Carver advocated for self-sustainable agriculture and practices for poor African American farmers. Carver’s commitment to helping African Americans through his research and teaching qualifies him to be the namesake for the Port Chester community center. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *