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November 05, 2019

VIDEO: Senator Doug Jones Honors the Role of Peanuts in Alabama History

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) took to the Senate floor today to honor the contributions of the peanut to Alabama’s history. He paid tribute to the National Peanut Festival, which takes place in Dothan each year and is currently underway through November 10. He also highlighted the importance of Tuskegee University and its most celebrated professor, Dr. George Washington Carver, in popularizing peanut farming and developing over 300 products made of peanuts.

“It is not an overstatement to say that Dr. Carver, Tuskegee University, and the peanut helped save the economy of the South,” Senator Jones said.

Senator Jones continued by using the example of the important contributions of Tuskegee University and Dr. Carver to again encourage the passage of his bill to renew now-expired federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country.

Last week, Senator Jones introduced a Senate resolution honoring the importance of peanut farming, the National Peanut Festival, and Dr. Carver’s legacy to Alabama history.

You can watch his full remarks here and a rush transcript can be found below.

U.S. Senate Chamber

November 5, 2019

Note: transcription edited for clarity

SENATOR JONES: It is not often that in floor remarks we can hit a trifecta on topics that are uniquely connected, but I am fortunate to have that privilege today, and they all center around the glorious peanut.

To start I want to honor the National Peanut Festival currently being held in Dothan, Alabama, which recognizes the importance of the peanut industry to the state of Alabama and the United States. Every year, Dothan hosts the nation’s largest peanut festival to honor local peanut farmers and to celebrate harvest season.

The festival began in 1938 and has been held annually each year, except for a five year hiatus during World War II.  This year’s festival is a 10 day long extravaganza with food, fun and entertainment. You name it, you can find it in Dothan during the Peanut Festival. It is one of the most popular events in Alabama each year. In 2017 the festival broke attendance records with over 200,000 people joining the fun. Unfortunately, my schedule has forbidden me from being down there this week, but I wish I had been there. I wish I could go for the end of this because it is a glorious time.

Last week, I introduced a resolution here in the Senate to pay tribute to the National Peanut Festival and the importance of peanuts to our state and the entire country.

Over 400 million pounds of peanuts are produced every year in Alabama, and nearly half of all peanuts grown in America are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan where most of the peanuts are processed.  It is no wonder that Dothan in Southeastern Alabama in the corner on the border for George and Florida is known as the Peanut Capital of the World. The peanut industry is a critical part of Alabama’s economy. In 2018 alone, the 400 million pounds of peanuts produced by Alabama farmers was valued at $118 million. And the farm value of the nation’s peanut crop is over $1 billion.

Like all farmers peanut farmers have their share of challenges. But year after year the peanut farmers in Alabama and across the country persevere, providing a crop that whose importance is often simply taken for granted as…well, peanuts, as it pertains to our overall economy. But the peanut is an important staple to the agriculture and food industry,  thanks in large part to the extraordinary work of an amazing scientist, an African American scientist, and adopted son of Alabama, Dr. George Washington Carver, who did his work at one of Alabama’s great HBCUs, Tuskegee University. 

Dr. Carver was born into slavery but raised by his former master once slavery was abolished.  He was forced to attend segregated schools until 1891 when he was accepted as the first black student at Iowa State University.

Only five years later, in 1896, Dr. Carver was hired by Booker T. Washington to head the agriculture department at the Tuskegee Institute – now known as Tuskegee University – in Tuskegee, Alabama.

At that point, peanuts weren’t even recognized as a crop in the United States.

But because of a serious threat to the South’s cotton crop from boll weevil infestations, Dr. Carver suggested that Alabama farmers start growing peanuts in the alternate year, which he believed would restore and add nutrients to the barren soil so that cotton could grow the next year. And it worked!

He not only was a leading voice for crop rotation, but ended up inventing over 300 products made out of peanuts, including peanut milk, peanut paper, and peanut soap -- although he did not invent my favorite, peanut butter, but 300 different types of products made from peanuts. 

In 1921, in a highly unusual circumstance in the era of Jim Crow, Dr. Carver testified regarding the value of the peanut before the Ways & Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. An African American scientist in front of the United States House in 1921. In 1938, again during the Jim Crowe era, Dr. Carver was the featured speaker at the first Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama.

Peanuts became more and more popular, and by 1940 they had become one of the top six crops in the United States, all in large part due to the work of Dr. Carver at Tuskegee University.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Dr. Carver, Tuskegee University, and the peanut helped save the economy of the South.  And this, my friends, is just one example of the extraordinary contributions that HBCUs have made to our country over the years and continue to make today.  But as we have talked about for some time, including with my friend Senator Cardin earlier today, those contributions are threatened because of the expiration of federal funding that occurred at the end of September.

I’ve been pushing for the passage of my bill, the FUTURE Act, which would renew funding for HBCUs are other minority serving institutions that expired at the end of September. We need to continue to invest in these institutions and ensure that they have consistent funding.

We have worked with this bill, the FUTURE Act, to make sure the concerns of others, particularly those that might object to the UC that we’ve asked for on the FUTURE Act, to make sure that this is not some kind of federal budget gimmick. We answered those very concerns. We’ve answered all the pay-for concerns, and all we’re asking is for consistent funding because planning is as important as the money now. Yes, the Department of Education has told HBCUs that the funding would be there through September, but by the spring those institutions have to start planning. They have to make sure they have the necessary resources for the fall and beyond and if they are funding is set to expire at the end of next year, they can't make those plans with their teachers as well as their infrastructure. We need to continue to make sure that those HBCUs are funded consistently and appropriately. So let's make sure we put aside any differences and make those funds are available so that our great HBCUs and minority education institutions can continue to plan.

We also need to continue to honor the legacy of Dr. Carver, which is one of the reasons why I am so proud to introduce a resolution honoring the National Peanut Festival and the peanut industry in the state of Alabama.  It’s a testament to the importance of the peanut and a time to celebrate the history of our state and the peanut farming way of life.

I’m hopeful that with the advancements in peanut allergy research, that we make sure that more people can enjoy what so many of us can. I understand that peanut allergy is a real problem for people around the country and around the world. But advances in research that are going on right now -- right now can make sure that we break through and that all who want to can enjoy the value and the taste of those wonderful peanuts.

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