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Henry Holt & Company

Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family

Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family

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A family reunion gives way to an unforgettable genealogical quest as relatives reconnect across lines of color, culture, and time, putting the past into urgent conversation with the present.

In 1791, Thomas Jefferson hired a Black man to help survey Washington, DC. That man was Benjamin Banneker, an African American mathematician, a writer of almanacs, and one of the greatest astronomers of his generation. Banneker then wrote what would become a famous letter to Jefferson, imploring the new president to examine his hypocrisy, as someone who claimed to love liberty yet was an enslaver. More than two centuries later, Rachel Jamison Webster, an ostensibly white woman, learns that this groundbreaking Black forefather is also her distant relative.

Acting as a storyteller, Webster draws on oral history and conversations with her DNA cousins to imagine the lives of their shared ancestors across eleven generations, among them Banneker's grandparents, an interracial couple who broke the law to marry when America was still a conglomerate of colonies under British rule. These stories shed light on the legal construction of race and display the brilliance and resistance of early African Americans in the face of increasingly unjust laws, some of which are still in effect in the present day.

Author: Rachel Jamison Webster
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Published: 03/21/2023
Pages: 368
Binding Type: Hardcover
Weight: 1.22lbs
Size: 9.47h x 6.43w x 1.38d
ISBN: 9781250827302

Review Citation(s):
Library Journal Prepub Alert 10/01/2022 pg. 15
Publishers Weekly 01/30/2023
Booklist 02/01/2023 pg. 8

About the Author
Rachel Webster is a professor of creative writing at Northwestern University and the author of four books of poetry and cross-genre writing. She has taught writing workshops through the National Urban League, Chicago Public Schools, Gallery 37, and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, working to bring diversity and antiracist awareness into creative writing curricula. Rachel's essays, poems, and stories have been published in outlets including Poetry, Tin House, and the Yale Review. Benjamin Banneker and Us is her first nonfiction book. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband and daughter.

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