Officially, Black History Month has passed, and it seems that the shortest month cannot hold the wealth of information garnered over the last 5 centuries of Black Life in this ‘New World’ (BTW, it certainly wasn’t ‘new’ to native peoples, who dwelled here an estimated 50,000 years before European Invasion).
If the name, Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) still has resonance, it’s probably because, for generations, Blacks and others have recalled his exploits of scientific brilliance and acclaim as a kind of historical antidote to the white supremacy that has prevailed since the establishment of this settler state. His self-taught abilities in astronomy, mathematics and architecture are generally known, as was his early life accomplishment of constructing–from wood!–a working clock that kept seconds, minutes and hours have echoed down centuries.
But, in relatively recent days, while reading the Black Chronicle, I came across a quite remarkable article recounting views expressed in his 1795 Almanac (yes–he wrote an almanac!).
What surprised me was that this particular article didn’t deal with science, per se (well, maybe political science).
It dealt with peace.
In a 7 Point Program, Banneker called for the U.S. government to appoint a Secretary of Peace! Banneker reasoned, “As the War Office of the United States was established in time of peace (during the convention of 1787), it is equally reasonable that a Peace Office should be established in time of war.”
His proposal, wide-ranging in moral and nationalistic points of view, called for far more than the establishment of a government department or office. He called for the establishment of public schools all throughout the new country, that every family be furnished with a Bible; and that the death penalty be repealed. —-
He also sought the abolition of weapons, gaudy military uniforms, and titles of such rank. Here was a free Black man, scientist, and writer–writing about the issues of his day, and seeking to create social change.
When next you hear the name of Benjamin Banneker, think not of architecture, of astronomy, nor even of wooden clocks.
Think of Peace.