free African American scientist, surveyor, almanac author and farmer (1731-1806)
Benjamin Banneker, originally Banna Ka or Bannakay, (9 November 1731 – 9 October 1806) was a free African American mathematician, astronomer, surveyor, almanac author, and farmer.
- SIr, I am fully sensible of the greatness of that freedom, which I take with you on the present occasion; a liberty which seemed to me scarcely allowable, when I reflected on that distinguished and dignified station in which you stand, and the almost general prejudice and prepossession, which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion.
I suppose it is a truth too well attested to you, to need a proof here, that we are a race of beings, who have long labored under the abuse and censure of the world; that we have long been looked upon with an eye of contempt; and that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments.
Sir, I hope I may safely admit, in consequence of that report which hath reached me, that you are a man far less inflexible in sentiments of this nature, than many others; that you are measurably friendly, and well disposed towards us; and that you are willing and ready to lend your aid and assistance to our relief, from those many distresses, and numerous calamities, to which we are reduced. Now Sir, if this is founded in truth, I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us ; and that your sentiments are concurrent with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all ; and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also, without partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties ; and that however variable we may be in society or religion, however diversified in situation or color, we are all of the same family, and stand in the same relation to him.
Sir, if these are sentiments of which you are fully persuaded, I hope you cannot but acknowledge, that it is the indispensible duty of those, who maintain for themselves the rights of human nature, and who possess the obligations of Christianity, to extend their power and influence to the relief of every part of the human race, from whatever burden or oppression they may unjustly labor under ; and this, I apprehend, a full conviction of the truth and obligation of these principles should lead all to.
- Letter to Thomas Jefferson on racism and slavery (19 August 1791) in Copy of a letter from Benjamin Banneker to the secretary of state, with his answer., p. 8. Printed and sold by Daniel Lawrence, no. 33. North Fourth-Street, near Race. Philadelphia M.DCC.XCII. (1792) in official website of University of Virginia Library.
- 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 yourselves
- Letter to Thomas Jefferson on slavery (19 August 1791)
- Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.
- As quoted in Friends' Intelligencer Vol. XI (1854), p. 821
- Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties.
- This appeared in Banneker's Almanac in 1794, and is commonly attributed to him, but originates earlier in "Reflections on different Subjects of Morality, by Stanisław Leszczyński, King of Poland, Duke of Lorrain and Bar" in The Universal Magazine (1765), p. 119
Quotes about BannekerEdit
- Now let us look too at Benjamin Banneker. Look at his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Here's a man, some end part in the absolute center of slavery who laid out the plans for Washington, D.C. Here was a man who had been a slave, and his parents were slaves. One must perceive this and see that he was not caught up by that same system which will smother in an attempt to protect. And one walks down the same century and sees the list of thousands of Black people who said "I've got to break away. Thank you for your caring but I must break away." You cannot blame the family for its attempts to say, "Stay, I can hold you. As long as I can touch you I feel more secure." No matter how it says it. The family may say "You'll never make it." Whatever it says it means stay with me so I can keep my eyes on you. The family is not to be blamed for that.
- 1986 interview in Conversations with Maya Angelou (1989)
- 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 ; and that the appearance of the want of them, is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa and America. I can add with truth, that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced, for raising the condition, both of their body and mind, to what it ought to be, as far as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances, which cannot be neglected, will admit.
I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condozett, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and Member of the Philanthropic Society, because I considered it as a document, to which your whole color had a right for their justification, against the doubts which have been entertained of them.
I am with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedient Humble Servant…
- Response to Banneker's letter of the 19th of August 1791 by Thomas Jefferson (30 August 1791)