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April 07, 2010   Email to Friend 

Alfa Helps Bring Carver Exhibit To Mobile
Darryal Ray

It's not about peanut butter. It's about "An Extraordinary Man with a Mighty Vision."

That's the title of the George Washington Carver Exhibit now on display until July 4 at the Museum of Mobile. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 visitors are expected to visit the exhibit, which was partially funded with a $15,000 donation by the Alfa Foundation.

"The George Washington Carver Exhibit provides one of the many untold stories of African Americans that continue to shape and affect our lives today," said Dr. David Alsobrook, director of the Museum of Mobile. "It is especially meaningful for Alabama in that Dr. Carver did his great work at Tuskegee University. His desire to improve the conditions for Alabama farmers was the foundation of his work. Alfa's contribution to this exhibit, highlighting Dr. Carver from slave to scholar to people's scientist, will enable our youth to claim Alabama's history as their own. We are excited to have this exhibit in Mobile."

The traveling exhibit, which will eventually reach 12 museums and historical societies across the United States, was created by Chicago's Field Museum in collaboration with Tuskegee University and the National Park Service. Work on the exhibition began in the spring of 2008 and premiered at The Field Museum in January 2009.

Despite the many myths about him, Carver did not invent peanut butter. He was, however, a trail-blazing proponent of agricultural sustainability who believed that "nature produces no waste" and neither should man. He was also a humanitarian whose goal was, as he put it, "to help the farmer and fill the poor man's empty dinner pail."

The exhibition features a rich collection of more than 100 artifacts from his personal life and work, along with animated and live videos, interactive displays, a diorama of Carver's childhood farm and a re-creation of his mobile classroom. A frail child who was born into slavery, Carver and his mother were kidnapped by slave raiders when he was still an infant. Although his mother was never found, he was later found abandoned by the kidnappers and was rescued by his owners, Moses and Susan Carver, who adopted both him and his brother. It's little wonder that Carver decided early on that his calling was to help "the man farthest down."

"Carver was driven by the needs he saw around him," says Michael Dillon, chair of the Botany Department at The Field and one of the curators for the Carver exhibition. "His research was very goal-oriented."

One of the ideas that Carver seized upon, Dillon says, was crop rotation -- a practice long known to other cultures but not used in the South, where cotton truly was king. Carver understood that cotton had depleted the soil of the nitrogen that plants need in order to grow. And he knew that legumes, such as peanuts and peas, had a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that could take inert nitrogen molecules from the atmosphere and convert them into a form plants can use.

It was the desire to make these alternative crops more useful to farmers and others that led to Carver's famous work with peanuts, cow peas or black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes. "I believe the Great Creator has put oil and ores on this earth to give us a breathing spell," Carver once said. "As we exhaust them, we must be prepared to fall back on our farms.... For we can learn to synthesize materials for every human need from the things that grow."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Admission to the George Washington Carver Exhibition is free with general admission to The Museum of Mobile ($5 for adults, $4 seniors, $3 for students, and free for children under 6). Visit MuseumOfMobile.com or call (251) 208-7569 for additional details.


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