The Hidden Link Between Dominican Agriculture and the Famous American Agriculture Scientist Dr. George Washington Carver

As we seek to build food security on Dominica in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a keen focus on our agriculture sector will be needed. It is necessary therefore that we gain an  understanding of how  innovative thinking and education in the past boosted our productivity.

To that end, few Dominicans know that the visionary local  planter, banker and legislator, John Baptiste “JB” Charles, corresponded with the eminent American educator, Booker T. Washington, and famous agriculture scientist, Dr. George Washington Carver.

JB Charles was focused on learning from those two African-American visionaries how best to increase crop  yield on Dominica and advance educational opportunities for locals.

The most famous local Planter, Legislator, and Banker of the 20th century John Baptiste “JB” Charles at center, his wife Mrs. Josephine Charles at left and his daughter, the future Dame Mary Eugenia Charles Prime Minister of Dominica at right. This photo was taken shortly after Eugenia Charles returned from law school in London.

Booker T. Washington was the founder of Tuskegee Institute (now university) – one of  the most storied American universities. The official website can be visited here; It is at Tuskegee Institute that the famous African American fighter pilots trained during World War II — hence the name “Tuskegee Airmen”.

Booker T. Washington, the eminent African American educator and nation builder of the early 20th century who founded Tuskegee Institute.
Dr. George Washington Carver was arguably  the most prominent American agriculture scientist of the 20th century. His work on finding various uses for the  peanut and in-soil improvement  transformed U.S. agriculture in the southern part of that nation.

It is of note that in our 1996 interview for her biography, former Dominica Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles confirmed that her father, John Baptiste “JB” Charles,  corresponded both with Booker T. Washington and Dr. Carver.

Dr. George Washington Carver, popularly known as “the wizard of Tuskegee” and the most famous American agriculture scientist of the mid 20th century in his laboratory at the Tuskegee Institute.

JB Charles, an eminent agriculturalist himself, sent both his sons Lawrence and Rennie to study under Carver  at what was then the  Tuskegee  Institute (now Tuskegee University)  between World Wars I and II.

Lawrence and Rennie Charles later studied at Morehouse University in Atlanta and  then traveled to Edinburgh University in Scotland for medical school. Dame Charles explained that, at the end of every semester, JB Charles ensured that his sons sent him  all  their Carver lecture  materials  and books  for him to study.  JB Charles then tried implementing those best practices at his various estates such as at Copt Hall Estate in the Roseau Valley. More details can be found in “Mamo! The Life & Times of Dame Mary Eugenia Charles” (Pont Casse Press, 2010).

Today, we are compelled to address the issue of food self-sufficiency  in our community at a time when the  COVID-19 pandemic has induced economic difficulties. It is in that context that the work of Dr. Carver in food science is relevant, as he trained legions of farmers — both black and white — to enhance soil fertility and thereby increasing crop yield.

Carver lived by the ethic that “service to others is the best measure of success.” During this plague, it is good to  remember those like Carver who were beacons for progress. May our Caribbean islands — in the spirit of Carver and JB Charles — forge on with the food self-reliance mission.

Readers may enjoy what is a  very informative video documentary on Dr. George Washington Carver: a true humanitarian scientist who we seldom hear of today. (See link below.)

~ Gabriel “Gabe” Christian – President, Rebuild Dominica Inc. ~