In 1731, Benjamin Banneker was born in Baltimore, Maryland to formally enslaved parents. Benjamin always had a hunger for knowledge, even as a young child. He studied math and science, specifically, he spent a lot of time teaching himself about astronomy, engineering, and the natural world. All this studying he did as a child would come in handy as an adult.
When Benjamin was only 22, he hand-carved wooden gears and cogs and created a clock that chimed every hour. While not the first striking clock ever created, it was probably the first built and designed in America. People from all over the country would come to see it. It would continue to chime until Benjamin Died in 1806.
Due to his knowledge of astronomy, Benjamin was able to predict lunar and solar events, including the eclipse of 1789. He used his understanding and skills in math for planning. In 1791, his planning ability grabbed the attention of the Surveyor General of the United States who recruited him to work on planning the layout of Washington D.C.
His knowledge of the natural world and his ability to plan led him to begin publishing almanacs. An almanac contains information for the whole year about the sun and moon cycles, weather forecasts, and planting and tidal timetables. This type of information helped farmers plant and grow more. He sent a handwritten copy of his first almanac to Virginia’s Sectary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Included in the almanac was a letter to Jefferson that read “Embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions” regarding racism against black people. A decade later, Thomas Jefferson became president.
This letter to a future president of the United States is considered to be one of the first documented cases of a civil rights protest letter. Benjamin would continue to fight for this cause and share his opposition to slavery in his writings.
This video is a great way to share Benjamin Banneker’s story with students of all ages. The contents are appropriate for all ages with the exceptions of perhaps the discussion of his death. Although, there is not much detail given. It is also difficult to talk about the life of someone from the 1700s without mentioning their death.
This video would be an excellent addition to your Black History Month curriculum but could of course be used any time of the year. It would pair well with a discussion of seasons and weather patterns. It introduces almanacs well. You could have students create their own almanacs. They wouldn’t have to do into as much detail, but they could predict what the year will look like on a monthly basis in regard to weather. You can adjust this activity to include research or have students justify their predictions. This fits with Next Generation Science Standards MS-ESS1-1, 3-ESS2-1, and K-ESS2-1.
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