Historical Notes and Comments 355
George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol. By Linda
O. McMurry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981). 367
pp. Illustrated. Endnotes. Indexed. $25.00.
Since George Washington Carver's death on January 5, 1943,
accounts of his life have ranged from the romantic adulation of
Rackham Holt's George Washington Carver: An American Biography (1943) to the caustic criticism of Barry Mackintosh's
"George Washington Carver: The Making of a Myth," Journal
of Southern History, XLII (November, 1976). Linda McMurry's
study of Carver attempts to steer a middle ground between these
two extremes: avoiding the unquestioning admiration of her subject on the one hand, while documenting and explaining, without
condemnation, his shortcomings on the other. For the most part,
she succeeds quite well.
The Carver who emerges from McMurry's pen is a complex
man of extremely humble origins. Born a slave on a farm near
Diamond, Missouri, in 1865, he left home at age twelve to attend
a segregated school in nearby Neosho. Recognized as a botanical
prodigy even as a pre-schooler, Carver was filled with a wanderlust that carried him from Neosho to ten midwestern communities
before finally settling in 1896 at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Enroute to Tuskegee, Carver availed himself of every opportunity
for formal education. The capstone of his training came at the
all-white Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts,
where he received an M. A. degree in 1896. While at Iowa State,
he specialized in mycology (the study of fungi and plant diseases)