Lafayette Frederick

Lafayette Frederick was born in Dog Bog, Mississippi, and grew up with five brothers and sisters on a cotton farm in Missouri, where his sharecropper father taught him and other local kids in a one-room schoolhouse that doubled as a church.

Ishani Ganguli
Nov 6, 2005
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Photo: Jason Varney Photography

Lafayette Frederick was born in Dog Bog, Mississippi, and grew up with five brothers and sisters on a cotton farm in Missouri, where his sharecropper father taught him and other local kids in a one-room schoolhouse that doubled as a church. Working on the farm, Frederick became deeply interested in agriculture. He remembers studying flower structure in a biology textbook, then finding he could learn more by just taking apart a flower from the family's garden.

Fascinated by the work of Tuskegee University alumnus George Washington Carver, Frederick went at the age of 16 to the traditionally African-American university and pursued a BS degree in technical agriculture. Here, Frederick met mentors such as Harold Romm, who introduced him to the study of botany.

Anticipating the military draft for World War II, Frederick moved to Washington State with friends and was able to parlay his skills into...