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George Washington Carver comes alive at Traer Library

June 21, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

In his lifetime, George Washington Carver developed 300 uses for the peanut and other plants as one America's greatest minds. But who was Carver? Where were his humble beginnings? Knowing it was impossible to ask the real Professor Carver these questions and more, Paxton Williams developed a one-man play as the "Peanut Doctor" in college and brought his presentation to Traer years later on June 16 at Traer Public Library.

"I like to joke I missed George Washington Carver by 100 years because he graduated in the spring of 1896 and I was a freshman in the fall 1996," Williams said. "I was a Carver scholar at Iowa State University and had to do an honors project. It was reccomended I do research on Carver and aftewards someone told me I should turn this research into a play."

To achieve this task, Williams visited Diamond, MO and read many of Carver's works in his archive. Using his written words and recordings of Carver, Williams worked with Jane Cox at Iowa State to craft the one-person play and bring the famed botanist to life. Potraying a kindly aging man, Williams relates the story of his idol from poor childhood to his later fame as a respected botanist that met such famous people as Franklin D. Roosevelt and worked under Booker T. Washington.

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"There's footage and video of Carver out there, but I don't attempt to do his voice completely," Williams said. "Carver's voice was higher and would be difficult to sustain, but I looked at videos, letters and photographs to glean more about him. He was a person who loved life, great energy and cared about people, so that's what I try to bring out in my performance."

Williams as Carver spoke about the botanist's time in Iowa, initially arriving in Winterset and taking up art classes at Simpson before studying botany at what was then Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames. Carver was the first black student at the school and continued his master's degree before also becoming the college's first black faculty member. He would go on to teach at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) for 47 years and continue to grow in fame and prestige while staying humble about his achievements.

"Professor Carver overcame so much without any hint of pity and achieved so much without any hint of self-congratulation," Williams said. "He had great humility and sought to serve humanity. I'm inspired by the fact he used his gifts for the betterment of all."

To add to the presentation, Luke and Sarah Foster performed several timely pieces as well as a poem written by Carver and read by Williams.

"Having Luke and Sarah join me tonight presented an oppurtunity to add more music to the program," Williams said. "People who saw this performance tonight are the only ones who've seen this performance with the poem."

Williams has performed his play more than 400 times since 200 in 24 states and England, which he describes as "a real joy to do." While in town, he enjoyed Traer's new pool, ate breakfast at Sweets on Main and saw Carver's message well receieved by his large audience.

"We can't all be like George Washington Carver because I believe he was a genius, but we can all be like the people he met on his journey who help him out," Williams said. "Jim Wilson, who came from these parts, inspired Carver as his professor and encouraged him throughout his career. We can all be like Wilson who sees virtue in another and do what we can do to help them in their efforts."



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