November 02, 2002
The Brother Who Trumped Einstein
When I was in elementary school, my parents had a book that give brief synopses on the lifes of great African-Americans throughout history. And, while everyone loves to talk about Frederick Douglas, or Harriet Tubman, or Martin Luther King, of W.E.B. Dubois, all extraordinary people who'd made amazing contributions to humanity, the man who always held the most fascination for me was Benjamin Baneker. Born a free man in the slave-holding state of Maryland over 130 years before the Civil War, Baneker was a farmer who taught himself from borrowed text to be a surveyor, mathematician, & astronomer so talented and renowned, he was commissioned to survey the land that the city of Washington DC rests on today. But, even beyond DC and his bestselling almanac, Baneker was the first astronomer EVER to postulate that the other stars in the sky were orbited by their own planets that contained their own forms of life. The first half of this theory wasn't proven until the 1940's. And he speculated about time/space relativity over a century before Einstein provided the mathematical proofs. Here's a recent biography detailing Baneker's life that, IMHO, every parent of a Black child should have on their bookshelf.