Banneker Memorial Group Marks 7 Years

Posted September 23, 2003 at 3:21pm

In hopes of creating a memorial for famed black scientist Benjamin Banneker, the Washington Interdependence Council is finding itself in the middle of a task it equates to “eating an elephant.”

“We have learned how challenging memorial campaigns are,” said Peggy Seats, founder and president of the Washington Interdependence Council, a nonprofit civic agency.

Last night, the council was scheduled to celebrate its seventh year of progress working toward the commemoration of colonial American hero Banneker with a celebration that included a keynote speech by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), actor and comedian Tommy Davidson and a silent auction featuring New York artist Leroy Campbell.

“Over 150 different organizations of different ethnicity have attempted to commemorate Banneker,” said Seats, who characterizes Banneker as the “most unsung American hero.”

Most noted for being a major contributor to the survey and design of the nation’s capital, Banneker was a self-taught astronomer, surveyor and mathematician. He made the first striking wooden clock in America and published the Banneker Almanac in 1792, which was available in all 13 colonies.

Despite seven years of fundraising and lobbying for a memorial, the council is far from completing the process, which has taken 40-50 years in the past for other memorials, according to Seats.

“We approached the process very systematically, one step at a time,” she said.

Groups planning to memorialize individuals have to meet approval from agencies responsible for the location and design of new commemorative works on federal land: the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Memorial Commission.

In addition to authorizations, finding a site for memorials can provide an additional challenge.

“The most coveted area is the Mall,” Seats said. “And at this point, there is literally no more space.”

Although the National Capital Memorial Commission approved the memorial for placement along the L’Enfant Plaza corridor in 1999, the council still needs authorization from the NCPC and a review of the Fine Arts Commission before a design can be considered.

The concept would provide a “park-like” setting with benches, trees, improved lighting, additional plantings and a visitor’s center “to tell the story of the founders of the nation’s capital,” she said. A 13- to 14-foot-tall bronze statue of Banneker, and a 30- to 40-foot-tall clock tower with design elements that will incorporate wooden clock designs are also planned.