March 12 -- Benjamin Banneker and Pierre Charles L'Enfant Commissioned to design DC

This is only a one-half black history fact, as only Banneker was black, L’Enfant was a Frenchie.


On today’s date in 1791, President George Washington commissioned L’Enfant – with whom Benjamin Banneker worked on the project – with the task of designing the 10 square-mile spit of land of Federal territory that was to be the nation’s capital.

As legend has it, the Frenchie was less than diligent in handing in his homework, and in such was failed out of the course by the president. Having handed in nor published NONE of his work, one could say that the capital city was up shit creek (or the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, as it were) without a paddle. This is where Banneker becomes the “man who saved Washington,” when he purportedly spent two days completely reconstructing the majority of the plans from memory. The story has it that these plans were what were eventually became the blueprints that became the capital city.

This is a bit embellished, as Banneker couldn’t have done it as above described if only based on travel itineraries and the fact that someone else (presumably a white man... just sayin’) had also been working with the Frenchie and had an early version of the plans, but was never given the original/finals and THOSE were used to build the city.

In the normal “it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove” manner in which black folks have been casually written out of history because no one could (or would) prove that he was there, so simply not mentioning his name in the plans removes any mention of him in the grand scheme of things…

Ain’t that a BITCH?

As ever, after writing him out of “official” history of the design, the backhanded compliment was payed in naming a park on a street named after the Frenchie after Banneker to ‘celebrate his role in the survey and design of the city,’ where at speakers told of Banneker’s work after Frenchie’s dismissal. Granted, this was 1971, so some smartass was on hand to remind them “that’s not how it really happened.”

Look, I know it is totally implausible that an assistant on a project has such inside knowledge that he could re-create it from memory in 2 days. It is just funny the lengths that people sometimes will take to remove black people from greatness in the grand scheme of historical events/accomplishments. If not from memory, let us not forget that he DID remain on the project with what they DID have after the Frenchie was fired. And for a black free man working under a slaveowner president, that is a big enough deal in and of itself.


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