Next Wednesday, the 274th anniversary of Benjamin Banneker's birth, is a good time to judge how he has been honored in this area. The verdict is mixed.
Banneker, of course, is a major figure in American history, especially African American history. He compiled one of the nation's first almanacs, and he helped re-create the plans for the city of Washington after designer Pierre L'Enfant angrily walked off the job. In 1791 Banneker worked with Maj. Andrew Ellicott in laying out the District's boundaries, and many of the stone markers they put down are still visible today.
Benjamin Banneker Park, just south of L'Enfant Plaza, consists of a circle of trees with a fountain in the middle. The park was dedicated on Nov. 24, 1971, by then-Mayor Walter Washington.
Today, the park has an isolated and neglected air. Weeds abound, and the fountain is usually off. The real problem, though, is its location. Planes serving Reagan National Airport screech overhead every minute or so, and cars roar along the road that runs beneath the park. Not a place for meditation.
A second Banneker park in the Washington area is in better shape. It is located a few blocks from the East Falls Church subway station. It is a well-kept site of a few acres, half open lawn and half wooded. The park even includes one of the markers Banneker helped place because the District once included what is now Arlington County, until the land was retroceded to Virginia in 1846.
Maj. Ellicott has fared far worse than Banneker. His only memorial is a street in upper Northwest that bears his name.