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President of Tuskegee University receives Carver Medal

Austin Hronich/The Simpsonian

Austin Hronich/The Simpsonian

by Laura Wiersema, News Editor

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Many believe knowledge and faith can’t fully coexist, but Brian L. Johnson, president of Tuskegee University in Alabama, sought to prove otherwise in a speech citing examples in the history of one Simpson College alumnus.

Johnson received the Carver Medal on Wednesday afternoon, an award created to continue the legacy of George Washington Carver at Simpson College.

Johnson spoke on the parallels in the lives and achievements of Carver and Booker T. Washington, who worked together at Tuskegee University for several years and corresponded in letters, constantly challenging each other. More importantly, he discussed the ways in which everyone can take inspiration from and emulate the two extraordinary scholars.

He noted that both Washington and Carver were men of great integrity and knowledge, fleeing ignorance in their pursuit of them. At the same time, neither man abandoned their faith to gain knowledge.

“Having a deeply personal faith does not absolve you from the work of climbing the ladder of reason,” Johnson said. “[Carver] felt integrity was not something that he could forsake in becoming something that he was not.”

During their time working together, both Carver and Washington’s integrity was questioned, but they had the humility and fearlessness to stand their ground, Johnson said. Carver, having great success in science, was offered many prestigious opportunities, but had the humility and fearlessness to stay committed to what he believed was his calling: teaching and furthering science and agriculture at Tuskegee.

“We need to be sure that being humble enough to accept who you are and fearless enough to walk out who were are ought to be values that our students model and embrace in their own lives,” Johnson said.

Johnson closed his speech by urging the audience to not disconnect faith from learning and to keep the past as part of understanding the present and the future, following the examples of Carver and Washington.

“Faith and learning played a deep and abiding sense of who these men were,” he said. “I view George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington as both men who had those values that were inculcated by their faith, and inculcated by them that what they were doing was most important and that posterity would prove them out.”

Since its establishment in 2008, the Carver Medal has been given to an individual who has distinguished themselves through service and used their gifts and imagination to serve as an inspiration to others. The recipient also demonstrates leadership and conviction, advances the fields of science education, the arts or religion and dedicates themselves to addressing humanitarian issues.

This marks the third time in eight years that someone with a connection to historic Tuskegee University has been awarded the Carver Medal.

In addition to Johnson, the Iowa Tuskegee Airmen received the award in 2010. Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis, who received the award in 2012, was born in Tuskegee, and his grandfather worked with Carver at the university.

Johnson said the people at Tuskegee University view Simpson as its sister college because of the Carver connection. After his talk, he informally suggested the two schools might want to strengthen those ties in the future by exploring the idea of exchanging faculty and students.

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