(THE PICKET) – Benjamin Banneker was the first black man to publish a widely distributed almanac that included ephemeris, weather forecasts, tides, and sunrises and sunsets. He also created the first American-made clock.
Banneker, a well-respected astronomer and mathematician, was involved in the surveying of the land site for the new U.S capital in 1791, later known as Washington, D.C. His responsibilities were to produce accurate astronomical data to the surveying team, and ensuring the astronomical clock was faultless.
One of the earliest advocates against slavery, Banneker sought to prove that blacks were not intellectually inferior to whites by using his own accomplishments as evidence. In doing so, he sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson about his hypocrisy in the Declaration of Independence pointing out his choice of words
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.” Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence.
Benjamin Banneker wrote in part of his letters to Jefferson as stated,
“Here was a time, in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great violation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings, to which you were entitled by nature ; but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourself.” Benjamin Banneker, Banneker’s letter to Jefferson 1791.
Mr. Jefferson, the secretary of state at that time, would later respond to Banneker’s letter.
“Sir, I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th. Instant and for the Almanac it contained. no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America….” Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson’s response to Banneker, 1791.
Banneker was descended from enslaved Africans but born free, his mother named Mary was a free woman; daughter of former slaves, and his father named Guinea was a former slave. Despite all of these characteristics he would still go on live a life of phenomenal accomplishments disproving the notion of the black race being inferior to white society.
Da’shawn Long is a staff writer for The Picket. He can be reached at Dlong03@rams.shepherd.edu or followed on Instagram @sirswave