Benjamin Banneker Park, a memorial landmark in Washington, D.C. that honors the work of the notable mathematician, astronomer and surveyor Benjamin Banneker was just about to receive the revitalization that many advocates and members of the community were hoping for.
But the city-run National Capital Planning Commission’s development of a new Southwest waterfront has slowed the site’s plans and may force it to relocate. Now, the memorial’s administrators are pushing legislation that could halt the commission’s plans and retain Banneker’s legacy at the site.
On Dec. 2, commission members met to discuss their plans to transform the Southwest waterfront into the 10th Street EcoDistrict, a new billion-dollar commercial and cultural area. Development plans call for the removal of the Banneker Park and the L’Enfant Plaza Promenade. The commission’s plans outraged the memorial’s owners, who believe it strips Banneker’s legacy and Black presence in the area.
“This site will be usurped and desecrated for new commercial and/or cultural purposes and the African-American community will have no cultural or commercial presence and ownership along the new $2 billion waterfront,” Peggy Seats, founder and CEO of the Washington Interdependence Council, which serves as the administrators of the Banneker Memorial, said in a statement.
Seats, along with Illinois Senator Roland Burris, introduced a bill to halt the operation. They hope President Obama will sign the legislation into law in the next few days, as it will elapse at the onset of the New Year.
While the current Banneker memorial only consists of a fountain outlined by trees, a $138 million grant donated by the U.S. Department of Transportation was going to be utilized to transform the site into a suitable monument. But without the bill’s passage, the transformation could potentially never happen.
“To lose the opportunity to finally erect a befitting memorial to Banneker would truly be a travesty for our children, and for the poor Blacks who were displaced to build this corridor between the mall and the waterfront in the first place back in the 60s, not to mention the plethora of centuries of rich history that Blacks have along these hallowed grounds. We cannot let this happen,” Seats said in a statement.
According to the D.C. Preservation League, the park was originally created in 1970 by renowned landscape architect Daniel Urban Kiley. The memorial serves as a tribute to the famous Banneker, an African-American scientist and mathematician who helped create the plans for the city the 1790s.