BLACK HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: BENJAMIN BANNEKER
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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