Supporters of a museum honoring Benjamin Banneker are getting help in their effort to keep some of his artifacts in Maryland -- a $50,000 grant to a consortium formed to raise money to purchase the rare items.
Friends of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, an organization that has pushed for the museum and park project for a decade, hopes to use the grant from the Maryland Historical Trust to secure some of the artifacts before they go on the block at Sloane's Auction House in Bethesda.
The long-awaited groundbreaking on the project in Oella, the site of Banneker's home, and the auction are scheduled for next month.
The artifacts -- including a William and Mary drop-leaf table, candlesticks and molds, and several documents -- are among the few remaining privately owned pieces associated with Banneker, the surveyor and astronomer known as "the first black man of science," who died in 1806. They had been in the possession of a descendant of mill family member George Ellicott, a close friend of Banneker's.
"These pieces represent a significant part of Maryland and America's history," said Ronald L. Sharps, executive director of PTC the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and chairman of the Banneker Artifact Consortium. "Acquisition of the items will help us to inform people about Banneker and help us to preserve his legacy."
Supporters have been unable to persuade the artifacts' owner, Elizabeth Wilde of Indianapolis, Ind., to donate or sell them to the museum, but they say they will continue to try to negotiate with her and the auction house.
Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III wrote to business leaders yesterday urging them to contribute to a fund for the purchase of the artifacts. Jay Doyle, a spokesman for the executive, said officials hope to raise enough money to match a $50,000 grant. "At this point, there are no plans to allocate any county money beyond the $2.4 million the county's putting into the park," Doyle said.
Ruppersberger is a member of the consortium, which includes representatives from the Friends of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, the Maryland Historical Society, the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, the state Department of Education and the Maryland Historical Trust.
If purchased, the artifacts will be owned by the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis and made available to the Oella museum and other groups for display.
Sharps said the artifacts, many of which were lent to Banneker by the Ellicott family and returned when he died in 1806, serve as a testament to the close friendship between Banneker and the Ellicotts, who were white.
"That theme of collaboration between the African-American community and white community is one we very much want to highlight," said Sharps, director of the Banneker-Douglas Museum.
Pub Date: 8/29/96