Benjamin Banneker is best known as the first black astronomer in the US, but was also an almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer. He paved the way for modern astronomers like Neil deGrasse Tyson (Director of the Hayden Planetarium) and Harvey Washington Banks (First African American to receive his PhD in Astronomy).
Education at the time was not accessible to Blacks, but his family taught him to read using the Bible. An anti-slavery Quaker school opened that allowed black people to enroll, and Banneker would enroll and learn mathematics as well as how to write. (Fun fact: his teachers changed his last name from Bannaky to Banneker!) His appetite for knowledge would eventually lead him to learning additionally to mathematics, engineering, astronomy and surveying.
Banneker was able to accomplish a lot in his lifetime. One of the most popular tools he created was the first American striking clock that chimed every hour. Because of his expansive knowledge of astronomy, he was able to predict solar and lunar patterns, including predicting the lunar eclipse of 1789.
His knowledge in surveying came in handy when he was hired by the US General Surveyer, to create a map for what would be the plans for Washington D.C. Later, he would move to using his skills to improving agriculture methods to improving the yield on his family’s tobacco farm.
His best work was in his published “Almanacs”, where he described sun and moon patterns, weather patterns, and planting and tidal tables. He would send the almanacs to future President Thomas Jefferson, which would become the first written documentation of anti-slavery protests, and to Jefferson’s content, would reply back praising his works.
He would send the rest of his years in activism. Unfortunately, his home was “mysteriously” burned down, along with his works. Banneker is still celebrated to this day.
Honors and Awards
A United States postage stamp and the names of a number of recreational and cultural facilities, schools, streets and other facilities and institutions throughout the United States have been named after him.
Resources: Biography.com Wikipedia.com NotableBiographies.com