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American Inspiration Author Series

Rachel Jamison Webster with Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family

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Date and time
Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Join us on an genealogical quest – an author’s exploration of her family and its history, brought to life in Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family, named a Best Book of the Year by the New Yorker. Don’t miss Rachel Webster’s presentation and conversation with historian Kendra Field about her experience connecting with relatives across lines of color, culture, and time.

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.

Rachel Jamison Webster is a Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department at Northwestern University and the author of four books of poetry in addition to “Benjamin Banneker and Us.”
Kendra Field is Associate Professor of History and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. She is author of Growing Up with the Country: Family, Race, and Nation after the Civil War, which traces her ancestors' migratory lives after the Civil War, and is currently completing The Stories We Tell, a history of African American genealogy from the Middle Passage to the Present.

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