In celebration of George Washington Carver

(Photo Courtesy of the Tuskegee University Archives)

Today we celebrate the birthday of George Washington Carver.

Born into slavery in 1861, Carver was a path-breaking revolutionary of enormous consequence to America and the world.

This day has very special meaning for me personally as I believe George Washington Carver was directly responsible for my grandfather becoming a pioneering plant breeder, farm leader, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and Vice President of the United States — where he set in motion a chain of events that saved two billion lives.

When my grandfather was six, his dad was a professor at Iowa State, and Carver was one of his students. Carver wasn’t allowed to stay in the segregated dorms so Professor Wallace invited him to stay with his family.

During this time, Carver took little Henry under his wing and shared with him his incredible knowledge of plants and botany.

My Grandpa grew up to use that knowledge to hybridize seed corn and spread it around the world, which got him noticed by presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt, who asked him to be his Agriculture Secretary. There he fought to lift America out of poverty with programs like food stamps, the school lunch program, Social Security, and the three million jobs of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

After Roosevelt picked him as Vice President, he persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation to set up a plant breeding station in Latin America to demonstrate that hybridized seeds could vastly multiply the earth’s bounty.

The young man he recommended to run that breeding station was named Norman Borlaug, and he went on to create something called the “Green Revolution,” where farmers in poor countries could grow five times as much food on an acre of land. Ultimately, two billion lives were saved from starvation, and Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The hybrid seed corn company my grandfather founded in 1926 provided the money that funded the foundation that I have been privileged to run for the past 15 years since my parents passed away — empowering women around the world, fighting climate change, and strengthening democracy and voting rights.

On this day, I remember how one simple act of kindness, during a time of great division more than a century ago, impacted American history, saved 2 billion lives, and made me who I am today.

Happy birthday, George. I, my family, and the world are in your debt. God bless.