Fate Lends a Hand

When his luck seemed the bleakest and his faith in his own ability began to suffer, fate stepped in to lend Banneker a hand. During the past few years, an antislavery movement had begun. The slave trade had been abolished in a December 1774 congressional resolution that allowed for no more importation or purchase of slaves. Also, an organization existed called the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes, to which prominent public figures such as Benjamin Rush (ca. 1745-1813), and James Pemberton (1723-1809) belonged. The society's goal was to gather evidence that blacks were not an inferior race and to free them from slavery.

In October 1790, Major Ellicott handed to James Pemberton a letter Banneker had written to him when Hays was still pondering the idea of publishing the ephemeris of a black man. Banneker's letter addressed both his concerns and confidences about his own work and asked the major for any help he might be able to lend to his research. Pemberton immediately saw the importance that Banneker's work as a free black man could mean to the society, and to African Americans as a whole. Banneker's astronomical work was hard evidence that the African intellect was equal to anyone's. He forwarded a copy of Banneker's letter to Joseph Townsend of the Baltimore chapter of the society, who in turn sought out the publisher John Hays to inquire as to the details of Banneker's work. Banneker now seemed to have the backing he needed to publish his almanac. It was too late in the year, however, for his 1791 tables to print. Banneker would have to compile a new set of tables for 1792.

Telescopes Mastery

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