Washington DC: The history of America and a list of great inventors can never be complete without the mention of many Black men, of which Benjamin Banneker is one.
Benjamin Banneker, just like most of the early inventors in various fields was self-thought. He was a grandson to a white British woman who married a Black slave and gave birth to a woman who also married a black slave that gave birth to him. He received his early education in a non-racist Quaker School, but his exceptional and advanced knowledge in many fields came from his interest in reading just about anything he laid his hands on.
He worked on the family’s tobacco farm, and at the young age of 15 he started to oversee the affairs of the entire farm. He would later invent and build an irrigation system which channeled water from a nearby spring and kept the farm flourishing even during the drought. His irrigation system and the wheat that was grown on farms that he designed went a long way in saving the U.S troops from starvation during the Revolutionary war with the British. He started to gain a reputation for his irrigation system, but it was nothing compared to the fame he got after he invented the clock, to the amazement of the whole world. Around the beginning of the 1750s, out of curiosity and ingenuity, he borrowed a pocket watch from one of his influential friends. He was bent on understanding the principle upon which the pocket watch operated. He successfully took the watch apart, studied it, and then pieced it back.
He returned the watch to the owner and then went ahead to manufacture a fully and optimally functioning clock. All the components were made from wood, with surprising accuracy, and it would tick for another 40 years. The successes of his clock invention gave him great fame and attention, and he started his own clock repair business. He was a multi-genius and went ahead to make other outstanding achievements. He read and developed his knowledge in mathematics and astronomy, from books which he borrowed from a friend. His study and knowledge made him predict a solar eclipse accurately in 1789. At the beginning of the 1790s, Benjamin Banneker became an author, publishing an annual Farmer’s Almanac. He sent a copy of this Almanac to the then secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson.
Benjamin’s ingenuity and abilities moved Thomas Jefferson to place him on the survey team that would lay a plan for the construction of Washington D.C. It was a three-man team, but the lead architect, a Frenchman, L’Enfant, later quit the project and didn’t leave any of the blueprints behind for Benjamin and the other teammate. But that did not stop Benjamin from completing the layout of Washinton D.C. He had amazing and out-of-the-world memory, so he put it to work. He remembered every bit and pattern of the design that was worked on and enhanced it to fully develop the plan and design of Washington D.C as we know it today. He went on to become a revered and internationally known polymath: farmer, engineer, surveyor, city planner, astronomer, mathematician, inventor, author, and social critic. He later died on the 25th of October 1806. But just like many black people who have bettered the world through inventions, Benjamin’s achievements are somewhat swept under the rug by America and its white supremacist agenda. His contribution to modern science and technology should get him a position as one of America’s most decorated icons, but he is not. Many Black children do not know him and the feet he achieved while he was alive. Stories such as these are meant to teach Black people worldwide that we are better than the picture painted of us. We are Gods and inventors, and our minds should be focused on healing ourselves and the community. Stories such as this should make us understand that we are alone in this world, and we owe it to our unborn generation to reclaim our lost glory.