"In order to think, you have to know some things to think about." This little message used to be one of the weekly signs on the front of my class podium when I taught history at Encinal High School. It stressed the importance of learning as much as one can about many of the things life has to offer. It also ties in with another favored expression -- "The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shore of wonder."

This is why we have libraries -- the main storehouses of knowledge. About a dozen years ago, while going out to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory on an open house day, I was surprised to hear one of the scientists in the car say that the Internet was replacing the need for libraries. It still rattles me that an educated person would think that way. It can coexist with and augment libraries maybe, but not replace them!

I am forever looking up information on Google these days -- "When did John Steinbeck die?" "Where was Benjamin Banneker educated?" "Was there more to Francis Scott Key or was he just a one-hit wonder?" etc. But first, one has to know there were such people as Steinbeck, Banneker and Key. The importance of obtaining a good education in school enters the picture here.

In case you were absent from school the day your teacher told you about Benjamin Banneker, here's a refresher: his maternal grandmother, Molly Welsh, came to America from England as an indentured servant in the 17th century. Once independent, she bought an African slave, fell in love with him and their marriage produced a daughter, Mary, who married another African former slave, and they became Benjamin's parents.


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It was grandmother Molly who taught little Benny to read, and after a brief time at a Quaker school, he became a self-educated mathematician, astronomer, surveyor and publisher of several almanacs. He also helped plan the layout of Washington, D.C. Quite a guy!

Getting back to Frank Key, today, Aug. 1, happens to be his birthday. There is a touch of irony regarding the man who wrote what would become our national anthem, however. He was a Maryland slave owner. Even more so, later, as a U.S. district attorney, he prosecuted several men who distributed anti-slavery pamphlets. (He lost the cases, though).

And did you know, the famed 20th century author of "The Great Gatsby" was a distant cousin named after him? His full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

The first of August is also the date when one of America's most adventuresome duos was born into the Clark family back in 1770. William Clark eventually partnered with Meriwether Lewis to complete the greatest adventure in our nation's history across the vast Louisiana Purchase lands to the Pacific Ocean. And this historian feels they were lucky Sacagawea was with them or they might not have made it -- but that's another story!

Oh, and I learned that my favorite American writer, John Steinbeck, died in 1968.

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.