Benjamin Banneker

The honor roll of building a foundation early in the plight of blacks in America… Mr. Benjamin Banneker.

This profile will be for Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806). The first slaves landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. The plight didn’t really begin until the OUTSTANDING contribution of Banneker. Here’s one of his most famous quotes: “The color of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers”.

Banneker was one of the most versatile intellects of his day and still to this day and age. He was known as the first African American man of science. Banneker was born in 1731 in Ellicotts Mills, Maryland. His maternal grandmother was a white English woman who came to this country and brought two slaves with her. She liberated and then married one of them. Their daughter, whom also married a slave, was Banneker’s mother.

From the beginning, he was taught religion and how to read by his grandmother and attended one of America’s first integrated schools. He showed a great propensity for mathematics and a an astounding mechanical ability. Yet, when he was forced to leave school and work the family farm, he still never stopped reading.

It took this type of blessed back ground to develop the man he became to be. How many thinkers died as a field worker, uneducated and without the chance to be the light of the human race?

At age 15, Banneker took over the family’s tobacco farm and invented an irrigation system to control water flow to the crops from nearby springs. As a result, the farm flourished, even though droughts killed other farms.

One of his great accomplishments was the invention of America’s first clock (wooden grandfather clock). At the age of 22, it was his clock invention that really propelled the reputation of Banneker. Borrowing a knife from a wealthy friend, he forged that which did not exist. He applied his natural mechanical and mathematical abilities to diagrams of wheels and gears and converted these into three dimensional wooden clock parts. People from all around the world came to see the “clock”. This was in the early 1750’s.

Do you know why President Obama should feel at home in the White House and the Nation’s Capitol? Because Banneker designed it! Our Nation’s Capitol would not exist as we now know it, if it weren’t for Banneker. After only one year of work, the famed Frenchmen, Mr. L’Enfant that was hired by George Washington to design the Capitol, stormed off the job. He took with him the plans for the Capitol’s design. Banneker was placed on the planning committee at Thomas Jefferson’s request. He saved the project by reproducing from “memory”, in two days, a complete layout of the streets, parks and major buildings. Including the WHITE HOUSE. Thus, Washington D.C. itself can be considered a monument to the genius of this great man! Banneker’s invaluable contribution started the change of the world’s view of the prevalent stereotypical “dumb negro”.

In addition to all of those ingenious accomplishments, he was an expert surveyor and distinguished himself as a reputable astronomer. In 1792, he issued an annual almanac which was the standard used in America, eclipsing Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac”. He was in love with mathematics and devoted himself to it which he shared with other mathematicians across the country.

Unlike his female counterpart of that time, Ms. Phillis Wheatly, Banneker turned his attention to the social problems of his race in America and boldly assumed the role of a political activist and protest leader. He was quick to point out the hypocrisy of slavery. He did not shy away from the powers that controlled slavery as he knew these men. He addressed a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1791, which in part denounced Jefferson’s participation in the enslavement of black people. It said, “Mr. Jefferson sir, not only is your involvement in slavery fraudulent and violent, but it is criminal sir”.

Banneker was so versatile in intelligence. It’s astonishing! He was the founding father along with Paul Cuffe of the early plight of African Americans.

He bled into the minds of other races that African Americans were worthy of significant contribution in other ways than anger or the written word, but substance of the mind. Pure mathematics is the great equalizer of men. Math is universal in its surface, no race or gender. One plus one equals two all over the world. In math, it’s either wrong or right, without prejudice. Contributions of the mind, a true mental giant and activist for the cause of your freedoms!

A product of determination – KJS

Banneker White house