John Lockwood's Nov. 5 letter on the area's memorials to Benjamin Banneker did not mention the District's Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. According to Newsweek, the magnet school is among the top 50 high schools in the country.

A recently restored portrait of Banneker -- painted in 1940 by Henry Wadsworth Moore under the aegis of the federal Works Progress Administration -- hangs in the school's lobby.

This school, an institution dedicated to preparing future leaders and thinkers, may be the area's most fitting memorial to Benjamin Banneker.




John Lockwood said this area has only a street named for Maj. Andrew Ellicott, but not far from Banneker Park in Arlington is a park dedicated to Ellicott. The park is at the west boundary marker on Meridian and Arizona streets in Arlington, about two-thirds of a mile west of the East Falls Church Metro station.




Benjamin Banneker's achievements, against the odds, made him an American hero, but he has been mythologized to some extent.

For example, John Lockwood said Banneker "helped re-create the plans for the city of Washington," but Banneker actually finished his work on the survey of the perimeter of the District and went home to Ellicott Mills in April 1791, never to return. Pierre L'Enfant did not depart Washington until the following February, leaving Benjamin Ellicott, a brother of the principal surveyor, to draw a small version of the plan to be engraved.

Regardless, Banneker's greatness is undisputed, and the Smithsonian Institution has an opportunity to make his 40-year-old memorial far more meaningful by locating the new African American museum next to it. The site, just south of L'Enfant Plaza, is by far the most appropriate among four being considered. It is the largest, the most dramatic, the best related to civic activity.

Before the founding of the Federal City, the site was the operations center for Notley Young's plantation; everything from his manor house to his slaves' quarters was grouped within a small compass. The site faced the river that became the dreaded route to the deep South for thousands of slaves.

Now that site should become the home of a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the people whose forebears paid such a price for them to become Americans.

Benjamin Banneker's phenomenal story would get its due if the park dedicated to him served as the entrance court to the museum of his people. Then it would be more likely to get the maintenance budget it deserves, too.



The writer was guest curator of the National Building Museum's exhibit "Washington: Symbol and City."


Benjamin Banneker might wonder why people are more impressed by fanciful tales of his recreating L'Enfant's plan from memory than by his technical skill in maintaining the accuracy of the regulator clock. The latter required frequent astronomical observations and mathematical calculations to ensure that Andrew Ellicott's survey marks were based on accurate determinations of longitude.

Those interested in Banneker's achievements should consult "The Life of Benjamin Banneker" by Silvio Bedini, a former Smithsonian curator and specialist in the history of early American technology.