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Collection Number: 04641

Collection Title: Wilson L. Newman correspondence with George Washington Carver, 1926-1943

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the section for more information.


This collection was rehoused under the sponsorship of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1990-1992.

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Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 275 items)
Abstract George Washington Carver (1864?-1943), African-American scientist of the Experimental Station of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Insitute, was known for his work in agricultural experimentation, especially in investigations of uses of peanuts and sweet potatoes and extraction of dyes from soils and clays. He was also an accomplished painter and lectured extensively in behalf of agricultural improvements and interracial cooperation. Wilson L. Newman first met Carver when Newman was a student at Vanderbilt University and chair of the Commission on Race of the Regional Council of the Student Y.M.C.A. Newman later taught in the Home-Study Department of the University of Chicago. Correspondence between George Washington Carver and Wilson L. Newman, beginning in 1926, when Newman asked Carver to tour Southern colleges in support of interracial communication. An instant rapport developed between the two men, who corresponded frequently until Carver's death in 1943. Letters, chiefly from Carver to Newman, are personal in nature, reflecting Newman's membership in Carver's "family," which was made up of young men who were expected to keep in touch with Carver by mail and to visit him periodically. Among these men were Howard Kester and Paul Newman Guthrie. Although most letters are filled with news of "family" members and with Carver's unbridled praise of Newman's mental and physical attributes, some letters address questions of race relations, Carver's work in agricultural experimentation, activities at Tuskegee, and the pleasures of music and painting that Carver and Newman shared. Also included are clippings, 1927-1943, chiefly 1943 obituaries and appreciations of Carver, but also earlier announcements of speeches and lay reviews of his work; six small landscapes and floral paintings, 1928-1932 and undated, apparently painted by Carver and sent to Newman as Christmas greetings; and miscellaneous printed materials relating to Carver, including a few brochures on agricultural topics and advertisements for books by him and for penol tonic, a "Tissue Builder and Germ Arrester" derived from peanuts and marketed by the Carver Penol Company.
Creator Newman, Wilson L.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Wilson L. Newman correspondence with George Washington Carver #4641, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Received from Wilson L. Newman of Chicago, Ill., in June 1989 (Acc. 92191).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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George Washington Carver (1864?-1943), African-American scientist of the Experimental Station of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Insitute, was known for his work in agricultural experimentation, especially in investigations of uses of peanuts and sweet potatoes and extraction of dyes from soils and clays. He was also an accomplished painter and lectured extensively in behalf of agricultural improvements and interracial cooperation. Wilson L. Newman first met Carver when Newman was a student at Vanderbilt University and chair of the Commission on Race of the Regional Council of the Student Y.M.C.A. Newman later taught in the Home-Study Department of the University of Chicago.

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Correspondence between George Washington Carver and Wilson L. Newman, beginning in 1926, when Newman asked Carver to tour Southern colleges in support of interracial communication. An instant rapport developed between the two men, who corresponded frequently until Carver's death in 1943. Letters, chiefly from Carver to Newman, are personal in nature, reflecting Newman's membership in Carver's "family," which was made up of young men who were expected to keep in touch with Carver by mail and to visit him periodically. Among these men were Howard Kester and Paul Newman Guthrie. Although most letters are filled with news of "family" members and with Carver's unbridled praise of Newman's mental and physical attributes, some letters address questions of race relations, Carver's work in agricultural experimentation, activities at Tuskegee, and the pleasures of music and painting that Carver and Newman shared. Also included are clippings, 1927-1943, chiefly 1943 obituaries and appreciations of Carver, but also earlier announcements of speeches and lay reviews of his work; six small landscapes and floral paintings, 1928-1932 and undated, apparently painted by Carver and sent to Newman as Christmas greetings; and miscellaneous printed materials relating to Carver, including a few brochures on agricultural topics and advertisements for books by him and for penol tonic, a "Tissue Builder and Germ Arrester" derived from peanuts and marketed by the Carver Penol Company.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Correspondence, 1926-1943.

About 240 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Correspondence between George Washington Carver and Wilson L. Newman began with a letter from Newman to Carver, dated 5 April 1926. In this letter, Newman, then a senior at Vanderbilt University, wrote that he admired Carver, who had gained international recognition in agricultural experimentation as head of the Department of Research and Experiment at Tuskegee Institute, "...in spite of the fact that I am the grandson of slaveholders and that I have had--and I am afraid still have--a great deal of prejudice toward the Negro." He explained that in the South, "There are a number of us who want more light on the problems of interracial cooperation," and asked if Carver would consider undertaking a lecture tour of Southern colleges. Newman said that he was making a two-fold plea, "...as an ordinary chemistry-hating college student who is interested in the racial situation and as chairman of the Commission on Race of the white Regional Council of the Student Y.M.C.A."

Carver's reply of 14 April 1926 indicates that, although already heavily booked, he was interested in the project. More important, however, Carver expressed his feeling of instant rapport with Newman: "I certainly would appreciate a talk with you and especially along the lines of chemistry, as I thoroughly believe that you belong to that rare group of individuals who dare to think independently."

By 15 May 1926, Carver had decided to make a Southern college tour in the fall, and his letters to Newman had taken on a very personal flavor. On 17 May 1926, for example, Carver wrote: "God is in your chemistry. You do not know it. ... God has a definite plan in the making." Newman, perhaps surprised by the intensity of this relationship wrote, on 19 May 1926, "I am still marveling now that a few punches on a little Corona would convey so much of human feeling," to which Carver responded on 21 May 1926, "Sir, I appreciate your letter because you have expressed yourself to me with a freedom not accorded to the average stranger."

By late June 1926, Carver addressed Newman as "My dear friend Mr. Newman," a salutation he felt comfortable using: "I feel perfectly safe in addressing you thus because you love Jesus." By July, Carver called Newman "My very dear friend Mr. Newman," and, after their first meeting in August 1926, "My very, very dear boy Mr. Newman." By mid 1927, Newman was regularly addressed as "My dear, handsome boy."

In June 1926, Carver had explained that he was always interested in young men who were full of life, regardless of color. After their August meeting, Newman had joined Carver's "family," which seems to have been made up chiefly of young men who were expected to keep in touch with Carver by mail and to visit him periodically. Among these men were Howard Kester and Paul Newman Guthrie, both of whom were included by Carver in a subset of the family called the Blue Ridge Boys. Many of Carver's letters to Newman deal exclusively with "family" doings, chiefly who wrote or visited Carver and who did not. In a great many letters, Newman was chastised by Carver for not writing and threatened with demotion from "adopted" status within the family to that of "a red-haired step child."

Because of the flattery that fills most of the letters from Carver to Newman and because few of the letters from Newman to Carver are preserved here, it is difficult to track the activities of the two men through their correspondence. A brief synopsis of subjects addressed in the letters appears below.

Folder 1

1926. Early letters relate to the initial contact between Carver and Newman and the growth of intimacy through correspondence, which includes mention of the activities of mutual friends, especially Howard Kester. The first meeting of Carver and Newman took place in Tuskegee in August, after which Carver wrote, on 17 September, of his delight in his new friend, saying that he had "...no words to express my true feeling for you." Carver frequently wrote of the enjoyment of music that he and Newman shared (Newman appears to have been a pianist, although it is not clear how serious a musician he was). Carver also frequently wrote of his concern over Newman's physical well-being, including maintenance of his physique and healthy skin. Carver's letters and a few from Newman show that in the fall of 1926, Newman, while studying for a master's degree at Peabody, was in the process of making arrangements for Carver's lecture tour. #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 1

Folder 2

1927. Many letters deal with planning for the lecture tour. On 16 January, Newman wrote to Carver: "I hope you can make the trip because the situation in Mississippi needs to be broken open. ... If you could not go on the campus in some places, you might speak in a church in the town and let the students come hear you." By 28 February 1927, Carver had completed the tour and was back at Tuskegee, from which he wrote, "Owing to some misunderstanding, the visits to the white colleges were cancelled. I made all of those for the colored, and was greeted everywhere with overflowing houses." In summer 1927, Newman was in New York with the Y.M.C.A. Summer Service Group, and Carver wrote of "visualizing" Newman in different situations. In 1927, as throughout the collection, there are periodic references to activities at Tuskegee, chiefly about the football team, which, as of October 1927 had not lost a game in three years. There are also infrequent references to race relations. In a 28 November letter, Carver wrote, "Grand Opera is coming to our Capital City, but I am sure no colored people will be allowed to go." Letters also offer limited glimpses into Carver's work, as on 16 December, when Carver wrote, "I have undertaken the job of finding out just what wood is best suited for the making of paper, as it will not be a great many years before the now favorite wood will be exhausted." #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 2

Folder 3

1928. On 11 February, Carver wrote about entertaining several white school groups at Tuskegee, and about visits from Howard Kester and Paul Newman Guthrie. In May, Carver discussed his love for painting. Carver was considered an accomplished practitioner of this art, especially skilled at color manipulation, an interest probably fostered by his investigations of dyes derived from soils and clays (see Series 2). He encouraged Newman in his exploration of water-color painting as a creative outlet. Also in May, Newman made a visit to Carver, which gave rise to a series of letters from Carver in which there is much praise for Newman's mental and physical attributes. Carver described their activities during the visit, including many references to peanut oil massages administered by Carver. #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 3

Folder 4

1929. Letters are chiefly about Carver's reflections on Newman's activities, which Carver continued to "visualize." These apparently included work, perhaps for a Y.M.C.A. committee, in Birmingham, Ala., and a summer touring Europe. There is very little description of events in these letters, most of which deal with how Carver "punished" family members who did not keep in contact. #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 4

Folder 5

1930. Letters are shorter and concerned chiefly with tracking the activities of "family" members. Little reference is made to events in the outside world, an exception being an 18 July letter in which Carver mentioned a lynching in Texas. #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 5

Folder 6

1931. On 16 February, there is a form letter from the Tom Huston Peanut Company, which Carver apparently forwarded to Newman. Attached to the letter is a copy of Carver's "Some Peanut Diseases," a paper that Huston's company distributed to farmers. Most of the letters are full of "family" news, but some contain references to 50th anniversary celebrations at Tuskegee, which included the placing of a bas relief of Carver, paid for by the Tom Huston Peanut Company. There is also a 29 September letter in which Carver mused on the possibility that the depression might serve to draw the races together. By 1931, Newman was in Chicago, apparently studying at the University of Chicago. #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 6

Folder 7

1932-1943. In 1932-1933, there are several letters from Carver complaining about ill health. In 1935, Carver lamented that the "family" was falling apart, since he had lost contact with so many of the members. In 1936, there is a solicitation to Newman from a group in Tuskegee that was raising money to commission a bust of Carver. Carver wrote on 7 June 1937: "My boys have scattered hither and thither, so that I cannot keep up with them." A letter on 16 October of that year shows that Newman was still in Chicago, where he taught in the Home-Study Department of the University of Chicago (see letter, 3 April 1939, Howard A. Kester Papers) and was married. In the late 1930s, Carver wrote of being severely limited in his activities by illness. Carver died on 5 January 1943, and, on 14 January 1943, Carver's assistant, A. W. Curtis, Jr., wrote to Newman, who had apparently asked that his letters to Carver be returned to him. Curtis said that he had been unable to locate the letters, and, if he found them, "...it will be our established policy to keep everything that Dr. Carver had any contact with together so that we might assemble it for the benefit of posterity." #04641, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1926-1943." Folder 7

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Processing Information

Processed by: Roslyn Holdzkom, February 1993

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

This collection was rehoused under the sponsorship of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1990-1992.

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