Every year, we commemorate Benjamin Banneker Week during the week of his birthday, which is on November 9. This year, it takes place from November 5 to 11. In Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland, on November 9, 1731, the mathematician and astronomer was born. Banneker was one of the first African Americans to achieve distinction in science, despite being largely self-taught. His notable achievements and correspondence with prominent political figures had a significant impact on how African Americans were perceived during the federal period.
During this week, libraries, schools, organizations, communities, and other interested individuals are encouraged to make mathematics a priority for young children. Banneker’s life and contributions are also honored during the week.
History of Benjamin Banneker Week
Benjamin Banneker was a mathematician, astronomer, almanac compiler, inventor, and writer who was one of the first prominent African American thinkers. Banneker, a free man, grew up on a property near Baltimore that he inherited from his father. He did, however, attend a one-room Quaker schoolhouse on occasion.
The gifted mathematician was largely self-taught. Reading borrowed books taught him a lot, and he had a natural aptitude for mathematics from an early age. While still a young man (possibly around the age of 20), he invented a wooden clock that kept perfect time. Banneker was encouraged to pursue his interest in astronomy by George Ellicott, a Quaker and amateur astronomer whose family owned neighboring mills.
Banneker began making astronomical calculations as early as 1788, and he correctly predicted a solar eclipse that happened in 1789. Banneker made more astronomical observations in 1791 while surveying the territory that would become Washington, D.C. with Andrew Ellicott and others. He was also an author and pamphleteer who fought slavery and advocated for civil rights. In 1791, he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, then-Secretary of State of the United States, asking for his assistance in improving conditions for African Americans.
When Banneker was too elderly to work on the farm, he sold it to the Ellicott family with the condition that he be permitted to remain in the farmhouse for the rest of his life. He spent his final days alone at the farmhouse studying and conducting scientific experiments.
During Banneker’s funeral, his farmhouse was burned, as was his laboratory and his much acclaimed wooden clock. Only one manuscript diary written by Banneker was not at the house and hence survived. Except for the published Almanacs, all other records of his accomplishments were destroyed in this (presumably intentional) fire.
Benjamin Banneker Week timeline
On November 9, Banneker is born.
Banneker builds a wooden clock that keeps perfect time.
Andrew Ellicott's son, George Ellicott, donates books and equipment to Banneker, helping him undertake a more serious study of astronomy.
Banneker passes away at the age of 75.
Benjamin Banneker Week FAQs
Why is Benjamin Banneker important to black history?
Despite his lack of formal education, Banneker was a math prodigy, an astronomer, and an inventor. He is viewed as the first African American man of science. Based on his astronomical calculations, he created almanacs and predicted eclipses.
Is Big Ben named after Benjamin Banneker?
The clock does not appear to be named after Banneker. Big Ben is not the name of the clock itself, but rather the name of the bell inside the clock that rings the hour. According to legend, Sir Benjamin Hall was the president of the Board of Works when the bell was cast.
What did Benjamin Banneker say to Thomas Jefferson
“I freely and cheerfully acknowledge that I am of the African race,” Banneker said. Despite not being a slave himself, Banneker urged Jefferson to put an end to the inhumane captivity of Africans in the U.S.
How to Observe Benjamin Banneker Week
Take a closer look at math
Among his other accomplishments, Banneker was a talented mathematician. Celebrate this holiday by investing a little more time in honing your mathematical skills.
Explore the autobiography
By reading his autobiography and other books, you can put yourself in the shoes of this remarkable man and accompany him on his journey. Who knows what gems of wisdom or inspiration you'll discover.
Participate in a mathematical competition
Put yourself to the test during Benjamin Banneker Week. Take part in an online math competition and compete against someone from another country.
5 Fascinating Facts About Benjamin Benneker
A farm boy
The Banneker family had a 100-acre tobacco plantation in rural Baltimore County's Patapsco River valley.
Of African descent
Banneker was born to an African American mother and a former slave father.
A wooden replica
Banneker researched clocks while in his early twenties, using a borrowed pocket watch to build his wooden clock.
His almanac series
Banneker is famous for his almanacs, which were issued annually.
In 1791, Banneker wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the United States secretary of state at the time, asking him to end the inhumane captivity of Africans in the country.
Why Benjamin Banneker Week is Important
He’s an inspiration
If we haven't said it enough, we'll say it again: Banneker was — and remains — an inspiration. One only has to look back at his accomplishments to see how valuable a legacy he left behind.
It raises awareness
Despite his many achievements, many people are unaware of Banneker’s deeds. This holiday is a reminder to appreciate his contributions and honor his memory.
It promotes education
Banneker emphasizes the value of education. This could be, like Banneker’s case, self-taught knowledge or formal schooling.
Benjamin Banneker Week dates