(NNPA)—“On record now thy name’s enrolled.
And future ages will be told,
There lived a man called Banneker,
An African Astronomer…”—Susanna Hopkins Mason, 1792
As the United States of America prepares to honor Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. as the first African-American and first non-president to have a memorial on the National Mall we have another proverbial river to cross. Our nation must also honor the work of Benjamin Banneker whose surveying assistance proved pivotal in the formation of the District of Columbia as the America’s capital city.
Benjamin Banneker was born free in 1731, within Baltimore County, Md. His mother, Mary Banneka, was the daughter of an African man named Banneka and an English woman named Molly Welsh. Banneker’s grandfather was captured and brought to the Colony of Maryland around the same time of Cunta Cente, made known to most in Alex Haley’s book, Roots, and was a descendent of the Dogon people of Mali (ancient dynasty which is now West African nations of Nigeria and Senegal).
The Dogon people in ancient Mali were—and are—expert astronomers who had accurately chartered the star “Sirius” and named it the because of its brightness and unique celestial qualities. Following the discovery of Sirius, the ancient Egyptians connected the flooding of the Nile Valley with the star. Later, the Greeks would name it the “dog star” for its association with the astrological “Orion’s Hunting Dogs.” Today, when people refer to the “dog days of August” it can be traced back to Banneker’s ancestors who were far ahead of their time.
Thus, Benjamin Banneker came to work as a surveyor for Maryland Mayor Andrew Ellicott with excellent credentials. Ellicott had been appointed by Thomas Jefferson to survey the land that would become the District of Columbia. Along with French artistic builder renderer, Pierre L’Enfant, Ellicott and Banneker would design the nation’s capital. As we know, Jefferson and L’Enfant parted ways and the latter returned to France. With precision, Banneker charted the stars and laid the coordinates (10 miles square) for Washington, D.C., much like the City of Alexandria in Ancient Egypt. For it was Jefferson’s interest in Ancient Egypt that someone with knowledge of the stars was needed for the city’s design. In fact, the “Meridian” known as 16th Street in Washington, D.C. was based on the meridian roadway of Alexandria to channel the light of God to the pharaoh’s palace, The White House.
In addition to being a first-rate astronomer, Benjamin Banneker was an inventor and author. In his early twenties, Banneker built a continuous striking clock entirely of wood, based on his design observations of a borrowed pocket watch. With excellent mathematical skills he designed and carved the clock’s components the clock kept perfect time for more than 50 years.
Banneker was among the first Americans to author an Almanac from 1792 through 1797, containing astrological ephemeris and solar/lunar eclipse tables with scientific essays. His almanacs were used by Slavery Abolitionist as proof positive that African-Americans were equal to other races in intelligence capabilities.
On the basis of his foundational contributions to the citing of Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital, The White House should embrace, and Congress should enact legislation for a memorial to Benjamin Banneker on land designated by D.C.’s City Council in 1971. In order to do so, Congress must pass reauthorization legislation so that fundraising may continue. Not to do so would be yet another insult to African-Americans.
“This sun, with all it attendant planets, is but a very little part of the grand machine of the universe; every star, though in appearance no bigger than a diamond that glitters upon a lady’s ring, is really a vast globe, like the sun in size and glory; no less spacious, no less luminous, than the radiant source of the day; so that every star is not barely a world, but the centre of a magnificent system; and a retinue of worlds, irradiated by its beams, and revolving round its attractive influence, all of which are lost to our sight in immeasurable wilds of either.”—Benjamin Banneker
(Gary L. Flowers is executive director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)