Banneker’s Birthday Celebrated with Dialogue on Race Series

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Grand Executive Director Adm. William Sizemore welcomed attendees to the launch of A Dialogue on Race in America series, offered as a community service of the Washington Interdependence Council’s ongoing Benjamin Banneker commemorative mission. The event was held at the historic House of the Temple landmark, designed by John Russell Pope. The event featured popular radio and television personalities, authors and scholars, Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder of Black America Speaks, and Dr. Bob Hieronimus, noted author and leading authority on symbolism and secret architecture in the nation’s capital.

The speakers dissected the 1791 exchange of letters between Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson in which Banneker questioned the sincerity of the Declaration of Independence since it was not applicable to African-Americans, Indians and other disenfranchised citizens. The Washington Interdependence Council contends that this exchange of letters between these two colonial American founding fathers marked the event of a dialogue on race in America and that it is imperative that Americans return to the table to promote civil discourse between diverse ethnic constituencies in America. This directive is essential in order to facilitate further progress in the area of interdependence and diversity in society.

Banneker’s collateral descendant, Gwendolyn Marable, led the evening’s celebration with libations in recognition of the ancestors and the gifts we descendants are the beneficiaries of here in America. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Banneker’s sister, Jemina; and former CEO of the Friends of Banneker. Performing poet, Ty Gray-El performed his original ode to Banneker and concert violinist Diana Sundsvold serenaded attendees with musical selections. Joseph Edgecombe spoke on Banneker and his role as America’s first high-profile Black abolitionist, who allowed himself to be employed by French and American abolitionists to serve as an exemplary example that all men [and women] are equal in humanity and intellectual prowess.

Benjamin Banneker is most known for his role in working with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and the three commissioners of the first presidential commission to establish the nation’s capital. He served as assistant to geographer Gen. Andrew Ellicott, as they charted the establishment of the first created capital in modern history, the new Federal City. His trailblazing legacy also includes engineering the first all-American made clock; authoring and publishing amongst the first almanacs in America; being the first to track the 17-year locust cycle; being the progenitor of a Department of Peace as a Cabinet post; initially hypothesizing that Sirius is two stars rather than one; and creating the formula for the now popular reverse mortgage which is enabling elderly citizens to live without the burden having to worry about a monthly income during their senior years.

As Ty Gray-El’s poem We Owe Banneker suggests, we certainly owe this great unsung hero for the many trailblazing gifts he bequeathed America and the world. Happy Birthday Mr. Banneker (Nov. 9, 1791- Oct. 9, 1806). For more information on the Banneker commemorative endeavor, go to www.bannekermemorial.org.

©Peggy Seats, True Diversity Media, 2011

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