I am pleased to have been the recipient of the Ordre d’Honneur et de Merite, Haiti, 1934 —
JJ’s great-uncle, Henry D Barker, born more than 100 years ago in America, recounting his impoverished boyhood and subsequent career
In the here and now, JJ has a mom-friend who cares enough about Haiti that she carried the Christian gospel to children there last year, and is suffering with the Haitian people in the earthquake’s aftermath.
She is the mom of Favorite Daughter’s traveling companion to Europe last summer. The November before that, this devout conservative evangelical (but also well-educated medical professional and feminist, for a southerner at least) did a little traveling of her own and took the church mission trip to Haiti.
Here is her FaceBook status update today:
Presidents Team up for Haiti.
Wow, that is the spirit that makes America the great country that it is. It makes me proud to be a naturalized American and to be part of Americans helping Haiti.
So it seems to me we surely share American values and see truth, beauty and goodness much the same way, despite not sharing the same family, politics, religion or profession.
As for me and Haiti, I’d personally still look to education rather than religion to save it. My family history is all about the transformative power of hard work and sacrifice channeled through education, not prayer. My great-uncle D went on his Haitian education mission trip of sorts after growing up dirt-poor subsistence farming in the Blue Ridge Mountains, partly homeschooling in fact, then studying agriculture and textiles at Clemson back when it was an agricultural college and Air Force academy.
From other universities he later earned his master’s of science in agronomy and his Ph.D. — first in our family! — and I was raised on stories from my mother’s mother (Uncle D’s enormously proud little sister) about him and Aunt Pauline living in Haiti for years in what sounded like a tropical paradise, helping to change the world with his education.
In 1928 he wrote a book about it: Éléments du Botanique Général par Henry D. Barker, Ph.D., Chef du Department de Bontanique Service Technique.
Published in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Stamped right on the front cover.
I am holding that book in my hand right now because by default I am now the family’s historical repository as was my father before me — both of us also academic doctors, admired throughout the extended family as continuing generational examples of the importance of education, not just to enrich the individual or contribute to the family’s collective well-being but also for all of humanity, because learning and then using it for good is what we are meant to do. . .
Inside his book, it’s inscribed in his feathery old-fashioned fountain pen script:
“To my mother from The Author.”
And I also have here beside me Uncle D’s self-published memoir of his boyhood, inscribed in that same hand, to me! —
“to Jennifer whose grandparents Alice and Ira were born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Henry D Barker”
Here is what he wrote about Haiti in the epilogue:
Following the armistice in 1918, I accepted a part-time research position while doing graduate studies under Dr. E.C. Stakman of the Plant Pathology Department of the University of Minnesota, which granted me a Ph.D. degree in 1923.
Stakman had won worldwide renown as a gifted teacher and lecturer and as a consultant on world food problems. I was fortunate in being one of his early students when opportunity existed for extensive and unhurried conferences with him . . .
After one year with the MS Agricultural Experiment Station at Starkville Mississippi, I joined a small group of specialists recruited by our State Department which had agreed to furnish the Haitian government [with] aid in establishing a modern agricultural college and experiment station. This was one of the provisions of the revised treaty between the two countries.
In 1924, plans got underway for locating the college and experiment station at Damien, on the outskirts of Port au Prince.
In view of the vastness of the problems facing us and the smallness of our contingent, our duties were varied, but I found them, the country and the conditions very interesting. In connection with my teaching duties, my assistant and I prepared a couple of textbooks.
A Swedish botanist, Dr. Ekman, had started a survey of the flora of Haiti. We built up a national herbarium with plant specimens he collected. I went with him on many collecting expeditions into remote mountain areas. One of my main interests was an attempt to improve the fiber quality productivity of the native cotton plant, which was cultivated to a limited extent. In 1936, I returned to the United States.
. . .[after completing his professional vita] I am pleased to have been the recipient of the Ordre d’Honneur et de Merite, Haiti, 1934; the honorary Sc.D. degree from Clemson University, 1936; and the Superior Service Award, US Department of Agriculture, 1963. Before my retirement I was a charter member of the Fiber Society and held memberships in the American Phytopathology Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the Washington Botanical Society and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.