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.
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; www.tuskegee.edu. It is at Tuskegee Institute that the famous African American fighter pilots trained during World War II — hence the name “Tuskegee Airmen”.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.
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. ~