The month after he turned forty-four, George Washington Carver visited the place where he had been born and raised and went to see Mose Carver and Mariah Watkins, both powerful influences on his character and career. This was the only time that he sought out scenes and people from those years; otherwise he had left them behind with rarely a glance back.
He may have needed to see ninety-six-year-old Mose one last time. He may have heard that the old man wanted to hand down his mother’s spinning wheel to him. Maybe Mariah’s affectionate letter to him after thirty years out of contact moved him to appear at her and her husband Andrew’s door in their quiet colored community in Neosho, Missouri, 750 miles of train track from home.
When Mariah recognized the self-possessed man over six feet tall with a thick handlebar mustache as George, she was astonished. The shy, tiny twelve-year-old she had found sleeping in her shed and taken in so he could attend school next door was now Director of the Department of Agriculture at Tuskegee Institute, the renowned school for blacks in Alabama, a position that had much to do with her urging him to put his genius in the service of their oppressed people.
She got word to Calvin Jefferson that George had “come home.” Jefferson, who at age nine had dropped out of the colored school where he had been attending with George, arrived driving a horse-drawn buggy, wearing livery for his job as the equivalent of today’s limousine driver. Finding Carver in heavy ankle-high boots, blue jeans and a sturdy work shirt, he recalled, “I was all dressed up and had no brains and there he was in brogan shoes, jeans and a hickory shirt and all his brains. And I was ashamed. George was sitting there just as calm as an old shoe.”
Carver ambled out from the Watkinses’ early one day to walk the eight miles to his birthplace. Along his wooded way he observed birds and stooped to study flowers, fungi, soils and stones native to here as he was, greeting them, often audibly, as old friends. The unschooled youth who had left home to find out everything about them was back as a Master of Science.