GW Carver National Monument: Nature is an unlimited broadcast station
The eminent Dr. George Washington Carver. NPS Photo.
By Audrey Peterman
Welcome to Day # 82 of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventure! I hope you’re having fun because I am so enjoying this journey, and all the new things I am learning about people, places and institutions that I thought I already knew so much about! For example, yesterday I received an e-mail from Brian Shellum, author and historian and a member of an ad hoc “Buffalo Soldiers Support Group” that has been working for some time to appropriately recognize and honor the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers:
“Here’s a Dayton newspaper account of the event in Wilberforce, Ohio yesterday. I spent the day there and had the opportunity to meet and brief Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Charles Young. (Story) While at the event I got to meet the president of the National Park Foundation (NPF), the director of the Trust for Public Land, and executive director of the African American Experience Fund (AAEF). The AAEF is a part of the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, that provided 100 percent of the purchase price for the Charles Young Home (from Omega Psi Phi). The AAEF supports the work of the National Park Service by raising funds and establishing partnerships to connect all Americans to the role of African Americans in our country’s history. “
Since last week I’ve been celebrating and writing about the new Charles Young monument, and yet I never knew that the house was bought by the National Park Foundation and the African American Experience Fund! (AAEF) This is particularly thrilling for us since we’re heading to the AAEF’s 12th Anniversary Gala in DC April 18th, honoring our good friends Congressman James Clyburne and Ranger Shelton Johnson, along with historian Julieanna L. Richardson, founder of The History Makers. Wow!
So in celebration of the AAEF’s accomplishments, today I am inspired to visit the site of one of the most poignant stories in its portfolio, the George Washington Carver National Monument. I haven’t had the luxury of visiting this park yet, though in the winter of 2008 I met the scintillating Paxton J. Williams, who wrote a very personal account for me. So on Day # 82, let’s journey with Paxton (Paxton’s story) to the birthplace of the scientist who had a deeply spiritual connection to the land, declaring, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
“He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”
“These words are the epitaph of George Washington Carver, world-renowned scientist, educator and humanitarian. From inauspicious beginnings, Carver would so capture the attention of the world that several months after his death in 1943, Congress passed legislation creating George Washington Carver National Monument. Located in Diamond, Missouri and free and open to the public seven days a week, Carver National monument is a 240-acre unit of the National Park System that features an 18,000-square foot visitor center with a theater, museum, interactive discovery center and mile-and-a- half long walking trail (in his Secret Garden.)
“Among the woodlands, stream, and tall grass prairie, visitors are inspired by Carver’s timeless story. From his birth in slavery and orphan-hood, to his search for an education, to his tireless effort to improve the health and living conditions of the Southern farmer, there was certainly more to Dr. Carver than his 300-plus uses for the peanut! This was a person who was befriended by such individuals as Will Rogers, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, W.K. Kellogg and Mahatma Gandhi, yet never patented any of his research or discoveries for personal gain, and who turned down lucrative offers and stayed at the Tuskegee Institute because that was where he believed he could do the most good.
“My own journey to Carver National Monument began in 1998 when I was a student at Iowa State University, Dr. Carver’s alma mater. Of course growing up, I learned what I suppose many of us learn about Dr. Carver when we are young: that he was a smart man who taught at the Tuskegee Institute and that he did a lot of work with peanuts. While at Iowa State, I took an honors seminar on Dr. Carver that included a trip to Carver National Monument.
“The more I learned about Dr. Carver, the more I began to feel that people should know his whole story. Thus, in 1999 I began writing a one-person play about his life and times. That play has since been performed 75 times in 15 states and in England. In 2005, as part of a Chautauqua sponsored by the Missouri Humanities Council, I had a week-long residency at Carver National Monument when I was approached about a position with the Carver Birthplace Association. I accepted in July of that year, and have been working to continue Dr. Carver’s legacy since.
“In conversations with others, I have found Dr. Carver’s story to be more real and more applicable to the lives of many in the world today than any Horatio Alger protagonist. George Washington Carver overcame many obstacles that even today, seem unfathomable. That he was able to keep going on, and thrive, is a testament not only to Dr. Carver, but also to the many kind and thoughtful individuals he met along his journey. These individuals had no idea of the genius with whom they were interacting. They had no idea who he would become, but they knew he had worth, and could potentially do great good if only given a chance.
” In my work relating to Dr. Carver, I have come to the realization that we can all have the determination to succeed that Dr. Carver had and we can all be the kind of people who helped Dr. Carver along the way. As Dr. Carver told us, “How far you go in this life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because some day in life, you will have been all of these.”
Thank you, Paxton! We know that you keep moving on from strength to strength!
There is so much to enjoy in our National Park System! I wrote Our True Nature specifically with the intent that any American who opens it and sees the plethora of beauty, the diversity of the sites, and the accessibility and affordability of the parks would have this instant reaction: “I’ve got to go! I would have to be some kind of a dodo to see that all this is available IN MY OWN BACKYARD AND I HAVEN’T GIVEN MYSELF PERMISSION TO EXPERIENCE IT.” Moreover, I don’t want another generation of American children to grow up disconnected from their heritage. So if you haven’t got your copy yet, please correct that today. Pick up your copy at www.legacyontheland.com and I will send it autographed to you!
If you’ve missed any of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventures, find them here (Archive)
Publication of “Our True Nature: Finding A Zest for Life in the National Park System” is supported by Delaware North Companies, Inc., Forever Resorts and Guest Services.