Archive for November, 2014

Food and Friend's Pie Election

Food & Friends’ Great Pie Election

With the recent conclusion of the mid-term elections, I thought there would be a break from campaigning and voting.  But on this bike ride, as I was riding past McPherson Square, I was flagged down and asked by a group of people to cast a ballot in the election which they were holding.  As it turned out, the pre-Thanksgiving Day election was being conducted by an organization named “Food & Friends,” and they were passing out free slices of a variety of different pies, and then asking people to vote for their favorite kind.

Founded in 1988, Food & Friends began in the basement of D.C.’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, with the purpose of providing healthy, home-delivered meals to children or adults battling HIV/AIDS, cancer or any another life-challenging illness.  Since their beginning, Food & Friends has prepared and served approximately 12.5 million meals to more than 19,850 individuals. Having moved from a cramped church basement to their own state-of-the-art kitchen and pantry facility, they have also initiated additional new programs to meet the changing needs of the people they serve. In addition to home-delivered freshly prepared meals, Food & Friends also provides groceries and nutrition counseling, as well as friendship, empathy and kindness to those they serve.

Food & Friends was holding the election to advertise their organization. They were also taking orders from people who were buying pies for Thanksgiving, with the proceeds to be used to support their programs. So with such a worthy organization being involved, as well as the availability of free pie, I felt obligated to stop and do my civic duty. I don’t know how the election eventually turned out, but I find that I don’t really care. I think with Family & Friends, everyone wins.

National Museum of American Jewish Military History

National Museum of American Jewish Military History

There are a large number of museums in our nation’s capitol and the surrounding area, and among them are many that are a number of specialty museums. One such example is the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. Located at 1811 R Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, it was the destination for this bike ride.

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History was founded in September of 1958. It is operated by the Jewish War Veterans (JWV), USA, National Memorial, Inc., and is housed in the same building as the organization’s headquarters. According to the JWV, the museum is intended “to document and preserve the contributions of Jewish Americans to the peace and freedom of the United States, educate the public concerning the courage, heroism and sacrifices made by Jewish Americans who served in the armed forces, and to combat anti-Semitism.”

The museum is comprised of two floors of permanent and special exhibitions, in addition to sponsoring a number of traveling displays that are temporarily displayed in other institutions throughout the country. In addition to exhibitions, the Museum also features the Captain Joshua L. Goldberg Memorial Chapel, and a study center that serves as site for the museum lecture series and other special programs. The Museum also includes an Honorial Wall and Tree of Honor, which are memorials which recognize individuals and organizations that contribute to the goals of the museum.

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History is an active member of the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium, which was established in 1983 to promote the “off the Mall” museums and their neighborhoods in the greater Dupont-Kalorama area of D.C.

Whether you’re a tourist or a local, I highly recommend exploring some of the off-the-beaten path specialty museums, like this one.


Statue of Eleftherios Venizélos

Statue of Eleftherios Venizélos

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see the statue of Elefthérios Venizélos which stands in front of the Embassy of Greece, located at 2217 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.

Elefthérios Kyriákou Venizélos was born in Mournies near Chania, in then–Ottoman Crete in 1864.  When the Cretan revolution broke out two years later, his family fled to the island of Syros.  Because of his father’s involvement in the revolution, they were not allowed to return to Crete, and stayed in Syros until 1872, when they were granted amnesty.  He later returned to Syros, where he spent his final year of secondary education before enrolling at the University of Athens Law School.  He then returned to Crete in 1886 and worked as a lawyer in Chania.

Early on, Venizélos felt that he was faced with a career decision, which he later described when he stated, “I had to decide whether I would be a lawyer by profession and a revolutionary at intervals, or a revolutionary by profession and a lawyer at intervals.”  Influenced by his father and profoundly affected by his earlier experiences of living in exile, he opted to be a revolutionary.

Venizélos became a leader of of the Greek national liberation movement in Crete and in 1896, as a member of the Liberal Party, he took a prominent role in the Cretan rising against Turkish rule.  In 1905 Venizélos becoming the island’s first independent prime minister.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Venizélos favored an alliance with Britain, France and Russia against the Central Powers.  He wanted Greece to give military aid to the Allies, and when King Constantine refused to agree, Venizélos resigned from office.

When he was again elected Prime Minister after a landslide victory in March 1915, he ordered mobilization of the Greek Army.  But when Venizélos invited the Allied forces to Salonika, he was dismissed by the king.  Venizélos then returned to Crete where he formed a provisional revolutionary government.

With the support of Allied forces, Venizélos made plans to march on Athens and overthrow King Constantine.   But in June of 1917, the king was deposed and Venizélos was able to regain power without resorting to force.

Venizélos led the Greek war effort until the Armistice in November 1918.  At the Versailles Peace Conference, he won substantial territorial gains for his country from Bulgaria and Turkey.

However, despite his achievements, Venizelos was defeated in the 1920 general election, and the new pro-royalist government invited King Constantine back to power.

Venizelos was elected prime minister again in 1924, 1928-32 and 1933.  And again in 1935, Venizélos came out of retirement to support another revolt in Crete.  When this failed Venizélos was forced to flee to France, where he died in 1936.

It’s impossible to know how successful Venizélos might have been had he made a different career choice and remained a lawyer.  But the statue in front of the Greek Embassy honoring him as a prominent and illustrious statesman who is credited with being “the maker of modern Greece” would seem to indicate he made the right decision.

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which is administered by the National Park Service, is located in Southeast D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. Established in 1988, the site preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African Americans of the 19th century. Despite the home at the historic site being better known and more visited, however, this was not Douglas’ original D.C. home.

When he moved to D.C. in 1871, Douglass purchased an Italianate-style house at 316 A Street (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Northeast D.C.  Two years later he also bought the adjacent house at 318 A Street. It was not until years later that Douglass moved to a house he had built on 17th Street in northwest D.C., and finally to the house in Anacostia, where he lived until his death in 1895.

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February of 1818. His mother was a slave woman in Talbot County, Maryland, and his father was a white man, rumored to be her master. As a boy, he realized the importance of education, especially after his master forbade the reading lessons that a kindly mistress had begun to give him. So he secretly taught himself to read and write. While working as a slave in Baltimore, he met and married a free woman named Anna Murray in 1838. This was the same year he fled Baltimore to escape slavery, briefly passing through New York. After settling in Bedford, Massachusetts, he changed his surname to Douglass, taken from Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Lady of the Lake.”

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, and famously stated, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” It was this belief that helped influence him to become involved in the abolitionist movement to abolish slavery.  Douglass conferred with President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers, and with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage.

However, as his involvement in the movement and his outspokenness brought recognition, it lead to his identity being found out. This resulted slave hunters trying to hunt him down, and caused Douglass to have to flee once again. This time he left the country and moved to England, where some British friends purchased his freedom in 1846, letting Douglass go home to Massachusetts as a free man and well-known public figure. In 1847, he settled in Rochester, New York where he continued his work, for which he gained even more recognition and popularity for his speaking and writing skills. As a leader of the abolitionist movement, he became known as a social reformer and American statesman, who stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

He then moved to D.C. in 1871, eventually being appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to the position of U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877, and the Recorder of Deeds in 1881. It was also while living in D.C., in 1884, that he married his long-time friend Helen Pitts, a white feminist from New York, after his first wife to whom he had been married for 44 years died. After mounting criticism, including from both their families, Douglass responded by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.

The original houses on Capitol Hill stayed in the Douglass family until 1920′s, and remained in private hands until the mid-1960s when Warren Robbins established the Museum of African Art in them. Later Robbins gave the properties and the museum collection of 5000 works and an extensive photo archive on African art and culture as a gift to the Smithsonian Institution. To help subsidize the cost of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture currently being built on the National Mall, the Smithsonian institution sold the property.

The exteriors of the houses have changed very little since the Douglass family live there in the 1870s, and have been partly restored and furnished with period pieces. They currently house The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame.

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The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Francis Kennedy, who was born on this day in 1925. Commonly known as “Bobby” or by his initials RFK, he was the seventh of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Bobby was more than eight years younger than his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and more than six years older than his other brother, Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy.

In addition to being a Senator from New York and a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1968 election before being the second member of the Kennedy family to be assassinated, Bobby also served as the 64th U.S. Attorney General from 1961 to 1964, having been appointed to the position by and serving under his older brother, President John F. Kennedy.

In recognition of today’s anniversary of his birth, on this bike ride I went by the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, which was renamed in his honor on what would have been his 76th birthday, in a ceremony conducted by President George W. Bush in 2001. Serving as the headquarters of the Justice Department, the building is located at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), on a trapezoidal lot which is bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to the north, Constitution Avenue to the south, 9th Street to the east, and 10th Street to the west, in the Federal Triangle area of downtown D.C.

Completed in 1935, the building was design by Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary utilizing influences from neoclassical and Art Deco architectural styles. The original facades, lobbies, corridors, library, Great Hall, executive suites and private offices retain their original materials and design, including the extensive use of ornamental aluminum. Today the building retains exceptional historic integrity, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.

The building’s design is similar to other Federal Triangle buildings, with an Indiana limestone facade over a steel frame, red-tile hip roof, and colonnades, as well as interior courtyards to provide natural light and ventilation. However, it distinguishes itself from other Federal Triangle buildings by its Art Deco elements and the innovative use of aluminum for details that were traditionally cast in bronze. For example, all entrances to the building feature 20-foot high aluminum doors that slide into recessed pockets. Interior stair railings, grillwork, and door trim are aluminum, as are Art Deco torchieres, doors for the building’s 25 elevators, and more than 10,000 light fixtures.

The building houses the Department of Justice, a cabinet-level executive department led by the Attorney General and responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the United States. Several Federal law enforcement agencies are currently administered by the Department of Justice, including the United States Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Office of the Inspector General. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also a component of the Department of Justice, and was originally housed in the same building, until 1974 when it moved into its own headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building directly across the street on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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The 19th Street Baptist Church

The 19th Street Baptist Church

I took this photo on a recent bike. Although it’s not a very good one, it is a photo of The 19th Street Baptist Church. I remember at the time I took the photo, however, that I just wanted the street sign and the sign for the church to both be visible in the photo. This was because The 19th Street Baptist Church is located on 16th Street in northwest D.C.   Yes, you read that correctly. The 19th Street Baptist Church is located on 16th Street. I initially thought, “It’s a good thing you don’t have to be a mathematician who’s good with numbers to be a Christian.” But then as I thought about it, I was so puzzled that I had to find out the story behind this apparent inconsistency.

The church was originally founded in August of 1839, when the First Colored Church of Washington was organized by a group of Baptist ministers and laypersons, including the Reverend Jeremiah Moore, Rev. Lewis Richards, Rev. Adam Freeman, Rev. William Parkinson, Charles P. Polk, Cephas Fox, Charles Rogers, John Buchan, and Joseph and Sarah Borrows.

The leaders and congregation were previously part of The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C., which had an interracial congregation where black members worshipped alongside whites. However, similar to other congregations at that time, the church gradually segregated its black members from the white parishioners. Given their discontent with being assigned to the gallery of the First Baptist Church, the black members chose to leave the congregation and establish their own independent church.

The new church then formed a committee, which was authorized to buy a plot of land which was available on the southwest corner of Nineteenth and I Streets, where a house of worship known as the Baptist Church of Christ in Washington was erected. The church was later incorporated as the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, in November of 1870.

The church remained on the corner of 19th and I Streets for over a century, until January of 1975, when it moved to its present location at 4606 Sixteenth Street (MAP) in D.C.’s Crestwood neighborhood. In part to preserve its rich history as the first and oldest black Baptist congregation in the nation’s capitol, it kept the name under which it was incorporated, even after the move.

Since its founding over 175 years ago, the church has figured prominently within the historical and social fabric of D.C.’s African American community, and it continues to do so today. 

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1794, I chose the Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon at the intersections of Connecticut Avenue, N Street and 18th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood as the destination for this bike ride. The bronze sculpture by William Couper is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” They are listed together as a group on the National Register of Historic Places, and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.

John Knox Witherspoon was born in February of 1723 at Gifford, a parish of Yester, at East Lothian, Scotland. He was a Scots Presbyterian minister before he and his family emigrated to New Jersey in 1768 in order to become President and head professor of the small Presbyterian College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

As a native Scotsman who was long wary of the power British Crown, Witherspoon came to support the Revolution in his new country. He was then elected in June of 1776 to the Continental Congress as part of the New Jersey delegation, and appointed Congressional Chaplain. He voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence, which was finally approved on July 2, 1776. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved two days later, to which Witherspoon was a signatory, and the only college president to sign it.

Witherspoon went on to serve in Congress until November 1782, and became one of its most influential members. He served on over 100 committees, spoke often in debate; helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and played a major role in shaping foreign policy. He also helped organize the Federal government’s executive departments.  He later served twice in the New Jersey Legislature, and strongly supported the adoption of the United States Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has claimed to be a direct descendant of John Witherspoon. However, it has been noted by the Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence that her claim has yet to be verified.

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, The White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Day is an official Federal holiday intended to honor all men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, who are also known as veterans. It occurred earlier this week, and is observed every year on November 11th. Veterans Day coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day, which is observed in other parts of the world and marks the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The United States also originally observed Armistice Day, but in 1954 it was changed to the current Veterans Day holiday.

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

In recognition of Veterans Day, on this bike ride I went by the offices for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is located at 810 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just north of The White House and Lafayette Square in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.

The Department of Veterans Affairs employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices throughout the country, and is responsible for supporting Veterans in their time after service by administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations. They are: the Veterans Health Administration, which is responsible for providing health care in all its forms; the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is responsible for initial veteran registration and eligibility determination, and oversees benefits and entitlements, and; the National Cemetery Administration, which is responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of 147 veterans and nationally important cemeteries, the most well-known of which is Arlington National Cemetery.

Among its other responsibilities, a current initiative in the Department of Veterans Affairs entitled “The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans” is underway end and prevent homelessness among veterans. The number of Veterans experiencing homelessness exceeds 100,000 former service men and women on any given night. Though 96 percent of homeless Veterans are male, the number of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans experiencing homelessness is increasing as is the number of homeless Veterans who have dependent children. In general, veterans have high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma, which can lead to higher risk for homelessness. About half of homeless veterans have serious mental illness and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Veterans are more likely to live outdoors, and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

While this initiative is admirable, it still has a long way to go, as evidenced by the number of homeless veterans actually living on the sidewalk outside the Department of Veterans Affairs offices here in D.C.

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Bohemian Caverns Jazz Club

On this bike ride I went by Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz club located in the U Street Corridor at the corner of 11th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

The club started out in 1926 as a small basement venue named Club Cavern, and was one of the spots where many prominent musicians of the day, including native Washingtonian Duke Ellington, came to relax after local shows to enjoy after-hours jazz.

In the 1950s, the club’s name was changed to Crystal Caverns and then to Bohemian Caverns, during which time it became the premier jazz venue in D.C., hosting such famous artists as Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, John Coltrane, and Ramsey Lewis.

During the late 1960’s business at the club began to decline, and as a result of the destruction of many nearby business during the riots that following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the club suffered additional financial difficulties and was ultimately forced to close its doors in September of 1968. Three decades later, as re-development of the U Street Corridor was underway, the club reopened and returned to its earlier prominence.

Bohemian Caverns is one of the few clubs from the 1920s to have survived, and despite some periods of shutdown, it remains one of the premier jazz hot spots of contemporary D.C.