Benjamin Banneker, an Authentic American Patriot

The Washington Informer Newspaper
October 2-8, 2003
Sam Doku, Informer Staff Writer

America has paid homage to the brilliance and ingenuity of Benjamin Banneker – scientist, mathematician, astronomer and architect – but it is not profuse enough.


Banneker (1753-1806) -- Darker than darkness itself, displayed unparalleled loyalty and boundless patriotism to his country at a time when the savagery of slavery and the callousness of slave masters were at their apogee. He helped in dispelling the overriding myth then pervading white societies that black people could not think.


Banneker without any formal training in architecture, redesigned the nation’s capitol which Frenchman, Charles Pierre L’Enfant, the original architect contracted to design Washington, DC, was peeved because of tardiness in paying him.


In came Banneker to produce an identical architectural brilliance of the city (thanks to his poignantly retentive memory) that remarkably assisted in the continuation of building the capital.


To help make Banneker’s image in iconoclastic presence in the city, the Washington Interdependence Council (WIC), under the aegis of founder and president, Peggy Seats, is working assiduously to have Banneker’s statute erected at L’Enfant Plaza. The gamut project is known as the Banneker Memorial and is expect to cost $20 million.


The Memorial is expected to be completed just in time in 2006 to synchronize with the bicentennial anniversary of the demise of the great man, but work on it is yet to begin.


Seats revealed the diligence they are putting in to help in taking the Memorial from its dreamy stage to reality. “We’re still waiting for the seed money for the project to start,” said Seats. “For 150 years, many organizations have tried to have a Banneker Memorial erected in the nation’s capital. We succeeded in lobbying Congress and with the help of Eleanor Holmes Norton, President Bill Clinton signed into law a legislation allowing WIC to proceed towards endeavoring to establish a monument to honor “America’s first black man of science. “


According to Seats, in 2000 they lobbied the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to defray the cost of renovating the L’Enfant Plaza Promenade, the approved site for the Memorial. So far, $12 million has been expended to complete Phase One of the urban renewal project at the Plaza. But still over $20 million is needed to complete Phase Two of the L’Enfant Plaza Revitalization Project, a project includes erection of the Banneker Memorial.


Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) espouses the importance of the project and Banneker’s commitment to freedom in antebellum America. “Benjamin Banneker was a man of many accomplishments. He was a free man who lived in a slave plagued society. He spoke against tyranny and in 1871 he wrote to [Thomas] Jefferson asking him to make sure the fundamental truths outlined in the Constitution apply to everybody. The Memorial will be a honorable honor to Banneker as a true leader of our nation,” said Sarbanes at Loew’s Restaurant
at L’Enfant Plaza last week.

Mayor Anthony Williams, in an ironic analogy, idolized the brilliance of Banneker, praised the freedom and liberty enjoyed in America and lamented the sad fact that African Americans and Hispanic children are at the bottom of the educational ladder when it comes standardized tests. “It’s one thing to design a building, excel in literature…but it’s a totally different thing to create a City. Pierre L’Enfant got Washington, DC started, but Benjamin Banneker executed the vision.


“It’s sad to note that this city is one of the top job producing areas in the country, but most of the citizens can’t get the jobs because African American and Hispanic children score at the bottom of standardized tests. The city is noted for its historic monuments, but when I travel outside, I realize that the thing I cherish most in our nation’s capital is not its monuments. The most important thing I’m most proud of is that we understand and argue about unfinished business…. That’s what Banneker was all about and that’s what we must strive to achieve…..” said Williams.


Chair of the City Council, Linda Cropp, who for 27 years was a public servant before she was elected to the Council in 1990 as an At-Large member, praised the archetypal thinking of Benjamin Banneker and was hopeful that one day, with the assistance of the District’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District would get its voting rights restored.


“It’s important to build this Memorial because many citizens talk about L’Enfant, but you do not always hear them talking about Benjamin Banneker. This will help change that. While we don’t have a vote in Congress, we have something that’s powerful, courageous, passionate, fierce and tenacious – that’s Eleanor Holmes Norton. With the help of Eleanor, I hope someday we’d get our representation back, “said Cropp.

Former Congress, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, is glad that the senior high school that bears Benjamin Banneker’s name is the city’s best high school and one of the best in the nation. “I’m happy that the nation has recognized the need to honor Benjamin Banneker. A little known fact is that Benjamin Banneker Senior High School is rapidly becoming one of our nation’s most effective developers of our future leaders. After the completion of the Memorial in his honor, together with the School, we’ll be sending great messages to our children.”


Holmes Norton, as usual, brought a message from the U.S. House of Representatives. “With the nation’s budget experiencing cuts everywhere except the Military and homeland Security, it’s not easy to request for money for the Banneker Memorial.”


Holmes Norton said Banneker didn’t discover his genius until his middle age.” He’s the first black scientist because he was the first to make his work available nationally,” said Norton.


Among Banneker’s profound accomplishments was the invention of a wooden clock that was in vogue for half a century, created an almanac and developed a great love affair with astronomy.

In 1980, Banneker received national recognition when his head appeared on stamps. And overpass at L’Enfant Plaza is also named after him in the District.


“I’m proud of Benjamin Banneker and his tremendous contribution to our nation. In Baltimore, there is the Benjamin Banneker Park and Museum located in his homestead. He did very many things in astronomy, math, in addition to his building the wooden clock. Honoring him is a worthwhile endeavor,” said Sarbanes.

Actor Tommy Davidson and Eyewitness News Anchor, Lesli Foster all paid glowing homage to the wonderful efforts of Banneker in his era, a genre that was incredibly tough for black people to achieve any measure of success in America.


“It’s a pleasure and an honor for me to be here to give praise to an African American innovator. Not only was he a genius but also he represented the ingenuity of African slaves, something that has not been emphasized in our literature books nor made a part of the educational curriculum in this country,” said Davidson. “I wonder what he would be thinking if he were here with us today and looking at this beautiful city he helped design with all its lights,” mused Foster.

Copyright 2003 The Washington Informer Newspaper

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