In January 1921 George Washington Carver traveled from Tuskegee, Alabama, across the Jim Crow south and into the segregated nation’s capital. He was there to extol the value of southern farmers’ peanuts as the House Ways and Means Committee considered tariffs on imports. Crowd-pleasing presentations like the one he gave that day, and on many more days all across the south, earned Carver the moniker “The Peanut Man.”
Although this caricature of Carver persists today in children’s book and the cultural lore around this unique life, it misses the deeper, nobler point of Carver’s work. That’s because, to Carver, the peanut wasn’t just some curious media for his experimentation or a vehicle to a profitable career. Rather, to Carver, the nitrogen-fixing properties of the peanut was life-support for impoverished soils of southern farms and the protein-rich nutritional profile of the peanut was nourishment for bodies of Black farmers he sought throughout his life to serve.
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