By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731 in Baltimore county, Province of Maryland, in British America. His mom, Mary Banneky was a free Black person, and his father Robert, was a freed slave from Guinea.
Banneker would learn to read by studying the family’s bible, and he would begin to learn and become exceptional in mathematics once he began attending a Quaker school.
His Excellence in mathematics would help make him a great inventor. One day he saw a traveling salesman with a pocket watch, and since no watches existed in colonial America at the time, he used his mathematics skills to invent his own watch. He would craft the watch entirely out of wood, and reportedly it ran perfect for the next 40 years.
Not only was Banneker a great mathematician and inventor, but his greatness would extend to astronomy. In 1789, Banneker predict the occurence of a solar eclipse, and to the shock of his skeptics, the eclipse would take place on April 14th, just as hee predicted.
Banneker, would also become an anti-slavery advocate, after he read Thomas Jefferson’s doctrine that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “, which was a total contradiction to Jefferson’s own actions as a slave owner. Banneker would write to Jefferson, telling him that Blacks were equal to Whites in intelligence and therefore were entitled to the same rights, protections and privileges as White men in America. To prove his point on the intelligence of his people, Banneker would include with his letter a copy of his almanac, which was a yearly publication that documented coming eclipses, holidays, and the hours of the day that the sun would rise and set, also included were anti-slavery essays, calling for the abolition of America’s original sin of slavery.
Jefferson would write back to him, with somewhat of a new understanding on the issues of race. A friendship would be formed between the two men, and remained intact even after Jefferson became president of America.
Because of his genius and his friendship him Jefferson, Banneker would be selected to be one of the men to survey the original boundaries of Washington D.C.
When the French city planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant, quit and took his plans back with him to France, Banneker would reproduce the plans by memory.
After dedicating his entire life to science and the improvement of humanity, Banneker would die in 1806 at the age of 74.
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By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Callie House was born a slave in Rutherford, County, not too far from Nashville, Tennessee . House would get married at the young age of 22. Callie and her husband William House would have six children together, but only 5 of those children would survive. After Callie’s husband William House died, she would financially support herself and her family by being a washerwoman.
Later in life, House and a man named Isaiah H. Dickerson would travel through the former Confederate states that formerly sanctioned the ownership of them and their fellow Black people to gain support for the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA).
They would have their gatherings in Black churches, because that was one of the only places Black people could somewhat safely come together without being threatened and harrassed by the White supremacist public.
The objective of the organization, which at its peak had hundreds of thousands of members was to provide compensation, mutual aid and to assist in burial costs of those Black people who were formerly enslaved.
The Federal Post Office Department, despite not having any proof would often accuse reparation organizations like the MRB&PA of committing fraud against its members in an effort to discredit the movement and sabotage their progress.
The Department of Justice would open an investigation on the MRB&PA, and they would eventually be forbidden from sending mail or money orders. In 1901, Dickerson would be found guilty of “swindling”, but the conviction would eventually be overturned. When Dickerson died in 1909, House would become the sole-leader of the MRB&PA. Despite interference and harrassment by the federal government and the Post Office Department the MRB&PA would go on for a while. Eventually though, trumped-up charges or not the Federal government would convict House in 1918, effectively ending the MRB&PA and their fight for reparations.
House would die in 1928 at the age of 66 or 67.
Years later her courage would be remembered and honored when in 2015 the African American and Diaspora Program at Vanderbilt University renamed their research center the Callie House Research Center for the Study of Black Cultures and Politics.
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