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African-American History Brushes with History Documents

George Washington Carver’s 1923 visit

When I asked the communications office if I could have a
blog, it was largely because I come across items from time to time that are too
good not to share with the community. When I found these two letters a few weeks ago, buried in a stack of
crumbling files from the early 1920s, I knew instantly that these were
special.

Carver1923

At first glance, the letters don’t appear that
important. A speaker writes a college
president to thank him for inviting him to speak on the campus, and the
president writes back to thank the speaker for sharing an hour with the
students. It seems like a routine
exchange of cordial letters. It’s
certainly how I read them as I quickly shuffled through them. But then I looked at the top of the
stationery and noticed “Tuskegee Institute.” And then I noticed the address on Snyder’s reply. Professor George W. Carver. George Washington Carver? Indeed.

The 1920s are sometimes referred to by southern historians
as the “nadir of American race relations.” Throughout that decade, African-Americans left the South in droves,
seeking better working opportunities and an escape from racial violence. Rigid segregation of most every aspect of
public life was the order of the day.

Snyder1923
But here, we have a cordial exchange of letters between two
academic colleagues. Snyder addresses
Carver as “Professor Carver.” Carver
thanks Snyder for “the very warm reception” that he “shall not soon forget.” Carver has clearly addressed the Wofford
student body, most likely in a Chapel service in Leonard Auditorium. Snyder says that the students “felt greatly
instructed by the experience of the hour which you gave them.” Carver invites Snyder, if he ever were to be
in the area, to visit Tuskegee.

You’d never know, without recognizing names of persons or
institutions, that the correspondence represents an exchange of letters across
the color line.

We don’t really know what happened on that day in December
1923 – we don’t have the Old Gold and Black for that year, and the Journal is
silent. We don’t know what Carver said
to the students. No doubt being
addressed by an African-American scholar was an unusual experience for Wofford
professors and students alike.

But I’d like to think the experience was a positive one for
all parties.

Click on the letters for larger images. 

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