Benjamin Banneker: an Important Black American

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• Part 2: Famous writer, designer

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Part 2: Famous writer, designer

He was also a very good writer. He had learned to read at an early age, and his mother encouraged him to write and write well. In 1792, he began publishing an almanac. This book contained all kinds of information, including weather forecasts and dates for eclipses. The book also contained medical information and articles about society in general. His book was read by people all over the country.

Banneker was also a voice for social change. He was a free Black man, and he spoke out against slavery. He sent a copy of his first almanac to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Banneker thought Jefferson was being dishonest by claiming that "all men are created equal" while at the same time owning slaves. Jefferson was so impressed with Banneker's arguments, the good writing, and the accuracy of the scientific calculations that he sent the almanac to famous people in Europe. White Americans and Europeans were astounded that a Black man had such knowledge. In fact, Banneker worked most of his life to disprove the notion that Black people were by their very nature inferior to white people.

Banneker is perhaps most famous for designing the nation's capital. In 1791, President George Washington appointed Banneker to the engineering group that was designing the city of Washington, D.C. Banneker thus became the first Black American to receive a presidential appointment. Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the head of the group, quit in 1792 after a disagreement and took his plans back to France. Banneker reproduced those plans from memory, and the new capital was born.

Banneker published his almanac every year for 10 years, stopping only because he was physically unable to continue. He died in 1806. His reputation lives on. Schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia are named for him. So are centers for the study of law and social justice.

What Everyone Should Know
About Benjamin Banneker
  • He designed the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., from memory.
  • He built his own clock--made of wood--and it kept accurate time for more than 40 years.
  • He published a yearly almanac that made him famous around the world.
  • He correctly predicted an eclipse, proving white scientists wrong.
  • He was born and died a free Black man.

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