Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker: Surveyor, Astronomer, Publisher, Patriot
The son of a freed slave, Benjamin Banneker spent only a few winters in school.  But he overcame racial prejudice and lack of formal education to become a widely respected astronomer and mathematician.

For most of his life, Banneker grew tobacco on a small farm in Maryland.  In his 50s, he taught himself mathematics, astronomy, and surveying, using a neighbor’s books and instruments.  He used his knowledge to write a series of popular almanacs with accurate information about the movements of the sun, moon, and stars and predications of tides and weather.  In 1791, Banneker helped survey the new capital, Washington D.C.…He saved the project from disaster when the supervisor quit, taking the plans for the new city with him.  Banneker was able to reconstruct the plans from memory. 
B anneker spoke out strongly against slavery and prejudice.  When Thomas Jefferson questioned the abilities of African-Americans, Banneker wrote him, defending his race.  He won Jefferson’s friendship and support.  Banneker’s remarkable achievements as a self-taught scientist were cited by 18th century abolitionists as proof that “the powers of the mind are disconnected with the color of the skin.”

When Banneker was 22, he built a wooden striking clock, even though he had never seen one.  He carved every piece himself by hand.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Irish in America

Beginning in 1845, a terrible blight destroyed the Irish potato crop, the main food of a poor nation.  Starvation was widespread, and those who could scrape together money for passage left for America in search of a better life.

The first Irish had immigrated to the Carolinas as early as the 1680s, but it was not until the nineteenth century that they came in large numbers.   The main flow of immigrants came between 1820 and 1860 reaching an all-time peak after the potato famine.
Arriving all but penniless, most families went to northern cities.  The men worked on construction gangs that built the nation’s new canals and railroads, and in coalfields.  Some Americans resented the Irish immigrants because they were Roman Catholics and because they were willing to work for very low wages.  Gradually, however, the Irish settled comfortably into American society.  They have made many important contributions to American life, and have made many important contributions to American life.  And have been particularly prominent in politics and the labor movements

A proud moment for all Irish-Americans was the inauguration in 1961 of President John F. Kennedy whose ancestors had emigrated from Ireland in 1848.
In 1851 alone, more than 220,000 Irish men and women came to the United States.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The America's Cup

Masts straining and sails stretched full with wind, two sleek racing yachts knife through the ocean at top speed.   They are vying for the America’s Cup, the most sought-after prize in yacht racing.

America’s Cup races date back to 1851, when the schooner America sailed from New York to England.  There, America beat a group of British yachts in a 60-mile race to win a trophy called the Hundred-Guinea Cup.  In 1857, America’s owners gave the prize to the New York Yacht Club, and it became an international challenge trophy – the America’s Cup.
America’s Cup competitions usually take place every three or four years.   Each participating country holds races to select the yacht and crew that will represent it.   Then the winners from around the world travel to the defending nation to compete for the cup in a series of elimination races.   For 132 years, U.S. yachts defeated all challengers winning the cup 25 times.  Then, in 1983, an Australian yacht, Australia II, won the trophy.  The American yacht Stars and Stripes, skippered by Dennis Conner, won it in 1987.  But New Zealand triumphed in 1995 when Black Magic beat Conner’s Young America in five straight races.

One of the yachts that sought to represent the U.S. in the 1995 America’s Cup contest had a crew of 15 women and only one man.   Its name was the Mighty Mary.