Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was one of those rare humans who have exceptional talent in many fields. Banneker was born on a farm near Baltimore, Maryland, in 1731, the son of a free mother and a slave father. As a free man himself, Banneker was allowed to attend an elementary school for free Negroes. While there, he showed both an interest and skill in working with mechanical things. While still a young man, he built the first wooden clock made in America.
Banneker taught himself astronomy well enough to correctly predict a solar eclipse in 1789. From 1791 to 1802 he published the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris, which contained tide tables, future eclipses, and medicinal formulas. It is believed to be the first scientific book published by an African American. A staunch opponent of slavery, Banneker sent a copy of his first almanac to then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to counter Jefferson’s belief in the intellectual inferiority of blacks.
Also a surveyor and mathematician, In 1789, Thomas Jefferson recommended Banneker for a position on the commission to survey and plan the city of Washington, D.C. Banneker, with Major Andrew Ellicott was on the commission for two years. In 1791, he returned to his home in Maryland.
Banneker died Sunday, October 9, 1806, age 74. His home was destroyed by fire 2 days after his death, while his funeral was commencing. The U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor in 1980.
“The color of the skin is in no way connected with the strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”