Benjamin Banneker

   Washington, D.C., capital of the United States, would not look as it does today without the help of Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), black astronomer and mathematician.
   Banneker was born a free man in Maryland at a time when most black men were slaves. His grandmother taught him to read the Bible by the time he was four. Banneker attended a Quaker school. George Ellicott, a friend, got him interested in astronomy. Banneker charted the movement of the stars so accurately that he published his own almanac from 1792 until he died.
   President George Washington appointed him assistant planner and surveyor for the new capital city. The chief architect was Fierre Charles L'Enfant, a Frenchman. As a surveyor, Banneker was allowed to see L'Entant's drawings, which the architect usually kept secret. L'En­fant resigned and Banneker's friend, George Ellicott, replaced him as chief architect. The angry L'En­fant took all his drawings with him. But Banneker was able to reconstruct the plan from memory. The streets of Washington, D.C., still reflect Banneker's plan.