Benjamin Banneker

(1731-1806)

Benjamin Banneker, a free black man in 18th-century America, taught himself astronomy. (Photo by MPI/News and Sport Collection/ Getty Images)

The First African-American Astronomer

Eighteenth-century astronomer, clockmaker, farmer, and antislavery advocate, Benjamin Banneker is known as the first African-American astronomer. Banneker did not begin his career in astronomy until he was 57, an age when many people today begin thinking of their retirement. His achievements are even more remarkable given the fact that he lived during the time of slavery in America, when virtually any important accomplishment by an African American, enslaved or free, was suppressed or unnoticed, or the credit was given to the master. Benjamin Banneker proved, through his work in astronomy, his mechanical innovations, and his involvement in the 1791 survey of Washington, D.C., that African Americans deserved as much intellectual credit as anyone else when allowed equal rights and the same chance to succeed as any other person.

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