Benjamin Banneker was born November 9th, 1731 which would make this Wednesday his 285th birthday.
Quick, what do you know about Benjamin Banneker? Even better, what have you ever taught your students about Banneker?
Have you relegated him to a mere Black History month mention? And what about the list of his accomplishments?
“Benjamin Banneker — author, scientist, mathematician, farmer, astronomer, publisher and urban planner — was descended from enslaved Africans, an indentured English servant, and free men and women of color…”
The PBS series, Africans in America provides a foundation for discussions on the ways that the lives of African Americans impacted the founding of this nation. Some argue there is no America without enslaved Africans.
Africans in America, told from multiple perspectives and informed by leading-edge scholarship, illuminates the story of our common history: how Africans and Europeans together built a new nation even as they struggled over the meaning of freedom. Although topics such as the American Revolution or abolition may already be part of standard curricula, by offering a more thorough and comprehensive view of our past, Africans in America provides a new way of understanding the history that has shaped our nation and ourselves.”
Tomorrow is Election Day and thank goodness this nightmare will soon be all over. Here at CREAD, we want to build some context around the election, Banneker and the First Black family in the White House. This past summer Michelle Obama made waves, when she said proudly, “I wake up up every morning in a house that was built by slaves…”
And white people lost their collective ish because Michelle was seen as being a race baiter in expressing a simple, truthful fact. As the writers at Huffington Post aptly put it,
“Part of the reason that this country has a race “problem” is the fact that it has a race delusion. That delusion allows a vast majority of Americans, many of them white, to avoid discussing race and racism in a real constructive way. These are the type of people who would rather believe that the White House just sprang into perfect existence, rather than acknowledge that the blood and sweat of slaves are mixed into its very foundation.
But there’s a beauty in acknowledging our past, in acknowledging the complex imperfections of this nation. When Michelle Obama, the first black first lady ever, stands in front of a crowd of thousands and talks about the watching her children playing on the lawn of a house built by slaves, she isn’t saying: I hate America. She isn’t pointing out this fact to cast a shade on our idealized vision of America.”
Yet, despite the controversy over Mrs. Obama’s remarks, there is no question about the contributions of enslaved and free Africans to the very foundations of this country. Banneker was sought after by Andrew Ellicot to join the team of architects and planners of the District of Columbia. Ellicot and the others relied on his mathematical prowess for the calculations used to set the boundary points of the district. When the chief architect, Charles L’Enfant abandoned the project, Banneker stepped in to help recreate the design plans from memory. Although historical scholars disagree on this point, there is no question that his brilliance and skill helped to lay the foundations for seat of American democracy.
So, as we prepare to elect a new American president let us not forget that a free African helped to make Washington DC a model for an independent and functional government even when it did not recognize him or his race as worthy of freedom.
Deep thinkers only