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Convocation on Feb. 7 to celebrate George Washington Carver’s inventive spirit

January 31, 2020

Michael Tullier, APR, Tuskegee University Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Tuskegee University’s George Washington Carver Convocation on Friday, Feb. 7 will honor the innovative and creative spirit of one of the nation’s most prolific agricultural researchers. The convocation begins at 11:10 a.m. in the University Chapel and will feature keynote speaker Dr. Clayton Yates, who as a member of the Tuskegee faculty emulates Carver’s pioneering spirit through his own comprehensive research program.

The George Washington Carver Convocation strives to reinforce the university's commitment to inquiry, faith and knowledge, truth and service, scientific competence and ethical maturity — all traits Carver emulated during his lifetime. During his nearly 50-year career at then-Tuskegee Institute, he conducted groundbreaking plant biology research and developed new uses for crops — including peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and pecans.

Dr. Clayton Yates

Yates, a two-time Tuskegee graduate, follows in Carver’s footsteps as an internationally recognized researcher specializing in the areas of cancer, health disparities, cellular biology, and molecular biology and pathology. After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tuskegee, he earned a doctorate in molecular pathology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in urology at Emory University’s School of Medicine.

He returned to his alma mater in 2007 as a faculty member, and now as a full professor in the Department of Biology, he holds a joint appointment with the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and directs the Center for Biomedical Research. He also is the principal investigator of Tuskegee’s Research Centers at Minority Institutions (RCMI) and lead PI for research partnerships that include Tuskegee, the Morehouse School of Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Like Carver, Yates is a prolific researcher. His findings are employed in labs across the world to further study the causes, detection and treatment of prostate and breast cancers in African Americans. He and his research teams have garnered more than $25 million in grant funding, and his efforts have resulted in numerous research honors and awards, the publication of 65-plus peer-reviewed publications, and his participation in numerous Department of Defense and NIH study section panels.

Dr. George Washington Carver in his lab
Carver working in his lab

Carver, born into slavery in Missouri in the mid-1860s, began his career at Tuskegee Institute in 1896 at the invitation of Tuskegee’s founding president, Booker T. Washington. At Tuskegee, as head of the institute’s agricultural department, Carver went on to become a world-renowned botanist and educator, and one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time.

Through his research, Carver devised hundreds of products from peanuts and sweet potatoes that included food items, medicinal products, plastics, household cleaners, and paints and dyes. His expanded uses for peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes provided struggling sharecroppers in the South plagued by declining cotton production with new crop alternatives. By offering these alternative crops, Carver contributed to rural economic improvement benefiting farmers and their land.

Following his death in 1943, he was buried next to Washington on the Tuskegee grounds. Carver’s epitaph reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.” Known for his frugal nature, Carver used his savings to establish the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee, which continues to support agricultural research at the university.

Currently, the George Washington Carver Museum, located on the university’s grounds, is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. It highlights Carver’s research accomplishments, as well as features his geological and mycological specimens, traveling “show-and-tell” displays, artwork and crafts.

Read more about Carver’s legacy on the university’s website.


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