Archive for June, 2019

Edward A. Carter

Posted: June 28, 2019 in Historic Figures
EdwardCarter01

Edward A. Carter, Jr.

On this lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery so that I could go for a long walk.  And as I was walking, I noticed a headstone that indicated that the person buried there, Sergeant First Class Edward A. Carter, Jr., was a recipient of the nation’s highest military decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor.  So naturally, wanting to know more him, I researched him when I got home.

In the early 1990s, it was determined that Black soldiers had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor in World War II because of their race.  Based on this finding, and after an exhaustive review of files, the study recommended in 1996 that ten Black Americans who served in World War II be reconsidered.  In October of that year, Congress passed legislation that would allow President Clinton to award the Medal of Honor to these former soldiers.  Seven of the ten, including SFC Carter, were approved.  The seven recipients were each awarded the Medal of Honor on January 12, 1997.

Unfortunately, by that time only one of the recipients, First Lieutenant Vernon Joseph Baker, was still alive.  During a ceremony at the White House on January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Baker, and posthumously presented to SFC Carter and the other five recipients.  SFC Carter’s Medal of Honor was accepted on his behalf by his son.  The seven recipients are the first and only Black Americans to be awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II. 

The reasons for SFC Carter’s deservedness of the Medal of Honor are best described by the citation that accompanied it.  It read:

“The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to

STAFF SERGEANT EDWARD A. CARTER JR.
UNITED STATES ARMY

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr. distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 23 March 1945. At approximately 0830 hours, 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany, the tank upon which Staff Sergeant Carter was riding received bazooka and small arms fire from the vicinity of a large warehouse to its left front. Staff Sergeant Carter and his squad took cover behind an intervening road bank. Staff Sergeant Carter volunteered to lead a three-man patrol to the warehouse where other unit members noticed the original bazooka fire. From here they to were ascertain the location and strength of the opposing position and advance approximately 150 yards across an open field. Enemy small arms fire covered this field. As the patrol left this covered position, they received intense enemy small arms fire killing one member of the patrol instantly. This caused Staff Sergeant Carter to order the other two members of the patrol to return to the covered position and cover him with rifle fire while he proceeded alone to carry out the mission. The enemy fire killed one of the two soldiers while they were returning to the covered position, and seriously wounded the remaining soldier before he reached the covered position. An enemy machine machine gun burst wounded Staff Sergeant Carter three times in the left arm as he continued the advance. He continued and received another wound in his left leg that knocked him from his feet. As Staff Sergeant Carter took wound tablets and drank from his canteen, the enemy shot it from his left hand, with the bullet going through his hand. Disregarding these wounds, Staff Sergeant Carter continued the advance by crawling until he was within thirty yards of his objective. The enemy fire became so heavy that Staff Sergeant Carter took cover behind a bank and remained there for approximately two hours. Eight enemy riflemen approached Staff Sergeant Carter, apparently to take him prisoner, Staff Sergeant Carter killed six of the enemy soldiers and captured the remaining two. These two enemy soldiers later gave valuable information concerning the number and disposition of enemy troops. Staff Sergeant Carter refused evacuation until he had given full information about what he had observed and learned from the captured enemy soldiers. This information greatly facilitated the advance on Speyer. Staff Sergeant Carter’s extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the Seventh Army, Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the best traditions of the military.”

ProphetDaniel01

The Prophet Daniel

The prophet Daniel is the hero of the Book of Daniel in the canon of sacred Jewish writings and the Christian Bible, who was a celebrated Jewish scholar, a master interpreter of dreams, and who received apocalyptic visions.  He is one of four Major Prophets in Hebrew Scripture, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.   And he is famous for successfully interpreting the proverbial “writing on the wall” and for miraculously surviving being thrown into the lions’ den.

During this lunchtime bike ride I discovered a statue of the prophet Daniel.  But it was not located at a synagogue or church, as you might expect.  The statue is displayed on the grounds of The Organization of American States, located at  200 17th Street (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  The 8-foot tall statue is made from concrete, and is based on an original 1805 soapstone sculpture by Antonio Francisco Lisboa,  better known as “Aleijadinho,” a sculptor and architect of Colonial Brazil.  It was a gift to the Organization of American States from the government of Brazil, and dedicated in 1962.

I decided to learn a little more about Daniel later when I got home.  But there is so much known about him from his writings and from history that I will only include a few of the more interesting highlights here.

  • Daniel was a good-looking man.  We know this because King Nebuchadnezzar’s criteria for serving in his court included physical appearance, and Daniel makes the grade.
  • Daniel was renowned for his wisdom and intelligence.
  • Daniel was descendant of the royal family of David.
  • Perhaps most appropriate for D.C., Daniel was a government official.  He served in Babylon under four kings: Nebuchadnezzar; Belshazzar; Darius the Mede, and; Cyrus the Persian.
  • And finally, and absolutely shocking for government official in this city, Daniel was scandal free.  In fact, when his political opponents tried to get dirt on him, their only option was to make it illegal to obey God.

 

ProphetDaniel02       ProphetDaniel03       ProphetDaniel04
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Carousel (1)

The Carousel on the National Mall

On August 28, 1963, during “the March on Washington,” Rev. Martin Luther’s King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  On that same day, just 45 miles away, the practice of segregation was discontinued at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park just outside of Baltimore.  And an eleven-month-old baby named Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there when, along with two white children, she rode on the park’s classic, old-time carousel.

The next day, “amid all the news stories about the March on Washington, there were also stories on Sharon Langley’s merry-go-round ride. Three kids – one black and two white – riding together provided an example of the harmony King spoke about at the march, when he hoped that one day black children and white children would regard each other as “sisters and brothers.”

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I went see that carousel.  But I didn’t have to ride all the way to Baltimore to do so.  Today that very same carousel is here in D.C., on the National Mall (MAP) in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, where young children enjoy themselves while their parents watch them ride the seemingly benign carousel, unaware that it has a rich history which is much more interesting than its appearance would suggest.

On April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened the carousel on the National Mall.  The original carousel was built in 1922 by the Allan Herschell Company, and was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ.  At that time, rides cost 25 cents.  However, not everyone was happy to see a carousel placed on “America’s front yard.”  Some were concerned that that the carousel, along with the  popcorn wagons and some outdoor puppet and musical performances that were already there at the time, would lead to the Smithsonian developing into what the New York Times termed “an ivy-covered Disneyland.”   But that never happened, and the carousel remains to this day.

Today’s carousel is not the original, though.  Due to wear and tear the original carousel was replaced in 1981 with the carousel from the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was forced to close in 1973 after suffering severe damage from flooding when Hurricane Agnes.  The Gwynn Oak carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 brightly-painted horses, as opposed to the former which had 33.  It also has a few non-moving seats, and one sea dragon.  And riding on the carousel is not limited to children.  All are welcome, including adults, as long as you’re willing to pay the current ticket price of $3.50.

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

GeorgiaDouglasJohnson01

Georgia Douglas Johnson Residence

You never know what history you’re going to find when you’re riding a bike around this city.  During this ride, as I was riding in the Cardoza neighborhood near U Street in northwest D.C., I happened upon a historical marker on a cast iron fence that surrounded a grey townhouse at the end of the block at the corner of S and 15th Streets.  In turned out to have been placed there to mark the house, located at 1461 S Street (MAP), where Georgia Douglas Johnson once lived.  So naturally, I later researched her to find about the woman who once lived at that house, and was important enough to be recognized.

Georgia Douglas Johnson was an African American poet and playwright.  She is best known for her collections of poetry: “The Heart of a Woman” (1918) (see below), “Bronze” (1922), “An Autumn Love Cycle” (1928) and later, “Share My World” (1962).  In addition to poetry, Georgia also wrote over two dozen plays, and authored a newspaper column for over a decade.  Throughout her life she wrote 200 poems, 28 plays and 31 short stories. For her works, she was considered an important member of the “New Negro Movement,”  an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s.  The New Nego Movement would later become known as the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 10, 1877, Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp was born to Laura Douglas and George Camp.  Her mother was of African and Native American descent, and her father was of African-American and English heritage.  She grew up and received her education in Georgia, graduating from Atlanta University’s Normal School in 1896.  She then went on to become a teacher, but resigned to pursue her love of music, attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  After studying at Oberlin, she returned to Georgia and returned to the educational field.

She married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an Atlanta lawyer and prominent Republican Party member, on September 28, 1903.  Henry’s law career brought them to D.C. in 1910, when Henry received an appointment as the Recorder of Deeds from President William Howard Taft.   It was his career that kept them here as well.  So although she was considered an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, she was never a New York City resident, neither when the movement was in full swing in the 1920s or after.  Instead, she and her family continued to live here in D.C.

Georgia and her husband had two sons, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Jr., and Peter Douglas Johnson.  But by the time they became teenagers, her husband passed away, leaving her alone to raise their boys.  This began a difficult period in her life, as she struggled to raise two boys and provide for her family financially.  As a gesture of appreciation for her late husband’s loyalty and service, President Calvin Coolidge, a devoted member of the Republican Party, appointed Georgia the Commissioner of Conciliation, a position within the Department of Labor.  So throughout the last 50 years of her life, Georgia raised and supported her family alone, while continuing and expanding her writings.

Also after her husband’s death, Johnson began to host weekly “Saturday Salons” for friends and authors, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké and Eulalie Spence, and many of the other noted women writers of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance. The S Street House, which became known at that time as the “S Street Salon,” became a satellite of sorts for others who were part of the Harlem Renaissance to meet, socialize, discuss their work, and exchange ideas while they were visiting the nation’s segregated capital. Gloria called her home the “Half Way House” for friends traveling, and where those with no money and no place to stay would be welcome.

Gloria died in 1969 at the age of 85.  And as she lay in her deathbed, one of her sister playwrights and a former participant of the S Street Salon, sat by her bedside “stroking her hand and repeating the words, ‘Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson’.”


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

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Note:  The house has undergone numerous renovations over the years, during which previous owners divided it into flats, and later turned it into a group home.  It was recently renovated and restored.  And last year, the six-bedroom, six-bathroom, 4,100-square-foot property was on the market for $2.875 million.

C&OcanalMarker (1)

C&O Canal Completion Marker

The Washington Monument is an iconic obelisk that for many symbolizes the city of D.C.   But it is not the oldest obelisk in the city.  That honor goes to the one enclosed by a cast iron fence on the northwest corner of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge (MAP), located in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood, that commemorates the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.  The C&O Canal’s monument is approximately ten feet tall, and was dedicated in 1850.  While that was two years after construction began on The Washington Monument, enormous structures necessarily take more time to build and the 555-foot Washington Monument wasn’t completed until 1885.

Despite being right next to a sidewalk along one of the busy streets of Georgetown, the C&O Canal obelisk is often overlooked these days by impatient passersby as they hurry along their way.  The canal itself is often overlooked as well, considered just part of the scenery.  But in its heyday the canal, also known as the “Grand Old Ditch,” was one of the primary modes of transporting materials into and out of the city for almost a century, operating from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.

Throughout the canal’s 184.5 mile length the elevation change rises and falls a total of 605 feet, which necessitated the construction of 74 canal locks (a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels), 11 aqueducts (bridge structures that carry navigable waterway canals over obstacles) to cross major streams, and more than 240 culverts (structures that allows water to flow under an obstacle) to cross smaller streams.  A 3,118-foot-long tunnel, named the Paw Paw Tunnel, was also constructed to allow the canal to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a six-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends.  An extension of the canal to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was planned but never built.

While in operation the canal was integral to transporting sand, gravel, clay, paving stones, fire bricks, cement and lumber for construction of the expanding city, as well as bringing slaughtered hogs and meat, fresh and salted fish, flour, oats and grains, corn meal, whiskey and spirits, as well as coal from the Allegheny Mountains and other general merchandise to feed and provide for the city’s burgeoning population.

Without the canal, the city would not be what it is today.  That’s a lot of significance symbolized by a small, overlooked obelisk.

    

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

Note:  The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a multi-use trail that follows the old towpath.  The canal and towpath trail parallels the Potomac River and extends from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles.  Together with the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail where the extension of the C&O Canal to Pittsburgh would have been if it had been completed, they form a continuous 334.5-mile trail between D.C. and Pittsburgh.

The Other Ben Ali Mural

Baltimore has crab cakes.  Chicago has Deep Dish Pizza.  And whether you prefer Pat’s or Geno’s, Philadelphia has the Philly Cheesesteak.  Here in D.C. we have the half-smoke – a half beef, half pork coarsely-ground sausage that is smoked before it’s grilled.  But in D.C., when it comes to this city’s signature food, there is no rivalry or controversy.  The best place to get a half-smoke is the original Ben’s Chili Bowl.

All week I have had a craving for a half-smoke, split and grilled, and served on a warm steamed bun with onions and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce, and a side of onion rings and a Cherry Coke.  So to end the week, on today’s bike ride I rode to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch.

As I was leaving after my delicious and satisfying lunch, I stopped and spent some time taking in the mural in the alley on the east side of the restaurant’s building.  Over the years the various murals that have graced the west side of the building, in the alley officially recognized by the city as “Ben Ali Way,” have gotten considerable attention from the press.  But the other, less-famous mural, is equally intriguing to me.  It is dedicated to the owners and founders of Ben’s Chili Bowl – Ben and Virginia Ali.  So I decided to find out more about the couple who founded the restaurant where I have eaten so many times.

Mahaboob Ali, commonly known Ben here in D.C., was born on June 13, 1927, in British Trinidad and Tobago.  He was the firstborn of seven children in a Muslim family, and was raised in the town of San Juan, which is located east of the capital city of Port of Spain.  Ben moved to the United States in 1945 as a student, where he enrolled at the University of Nebraska.  At that time he was planning on becoming a medical doctor.  But as the result of a fall down an elevator shaft while at the school he suffered a broken back.  He spent months recovering from the accident. Following his recovery, Ben attended four separate schools before earning his bachelor’s degree from Howard University here in D.C.

Virginia Ali grew up on a farm in rural Virginia and moved to D.C. looking for a job and new opportunities in the big city.  She went to work for one of D.C.’s heralded institutions — as a teller at Industrial Bank, the first African-American-owned bank in D.C.  It was at the bank that she met Ben, the man with whom she fell in love, married, and became lifelong business partners with.

In 1958, newlyweds Ben and Virginia began renovating the building at 1213 U Street.  Built in 1910, the building first housed a silent movie house called the Minnehaha Theater.  Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.   The Ali’s simply wanted to own a business that would give them the means to raise their children.  Ben had worked at a restaurant in college, and they decided to open up their own.  They had no idea it would become such a huge success.  Today, Ben’s has spawned locations all over the local area.  It employs approximately 170 people and has about $8 million in revenue.

Ben passed away in October of 2009 at the age of  82.  Virginia, who was only 24 years old when she and her husband started the restaurant, is now 85, and can still be found working at the U Street location most days – greeting customers and keeping tabs on the business that is now run be her family.  Her three sons Kamal, Nizam and Haidar as well as her two daughters-in-law now run the day-to-day operations.

In August Ben’s will celebrate it’s 61st anniversary.  Over those years people have changed.  I certainly have.  The restaurant, however, has not.  The counter, booths and stools are all original.  And the half-smokes are just as delicious as they’ve always been.  Since the first time I ate there decades ago, I’ve known how good the food is.  And now, I know a little more about the people too.

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

Trivia Fact: Due to Islamic prohibitions against consuming pork, Ben Ali never consumed some of his own restaurant’s popular offerings.

National City Christian Church

National City Christian Church is located on 5 Thomas Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood.  It is the national church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ, often abbreviated simply as the “Disciples of Christ” or “Christian Church”), a mainline Protestant Christian denomination.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I visited the church.

The church’s neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope and completed in 1930.  It has a “monumental character” typical of Pope’s style and seen in his other works, such as The Thomas Jefferson MemorialThe U.S. National Archives and Records Administration building and the West Building of The National Gallery of Art.  The church’s design was partly influenced by British architect James Gibbs’ Saint Martin-in-the-Fields church, built at Trafalgar Square in London in the early 18th century.   The National City Christian Church building, which is constructed of Indiana limestone, is a contributing property to the Greater 14th Street Historic District, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The church building also features stained glass windows commemorating the two presidents thus far associated with the church.  The first is President James A. Garfield, who  preached there, and whose family pew is still displayed adjacent to the sanctuary. The other is President Lyndon B. Johnson, who along with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson worshiped there and mingled regularly with other parishioners in Fellowship Hall after services.

However, churches are more than the buildings in which they worship.  The congregation that eventually became the National City Christian Church was organized in 1843.  James Turner Barclay, a physician and pioneering Stone-Campbell Movement missionary, helped to organize the congregation.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the church had a congregation of some 800 regular Sunday worshipers.  However, in 2004, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Alvin O. Jackson, resigned following a heated acrimonious dispute. The ouster of Jackson followed the resignation or firings of some two dozen church staffers, and the development of a deep intra-congregational dispute.  Attendance declined over time; in 2011, Sunday attendance was about 125, with mostly older congregants.

The church has experienced other recent troubles as well.  It’s chief financial officer, Jason Todd Reynolds, was discovered to have embezzled $850,000 in church funds from 2003 to 2008.  In 2011, Reynolds was convicted of 12 fraud-related charges, and sentenced to eight years in prison.  The losses from Reynolds’ embezzlement scheme caused serious damage to the church’s financial health.  It’s financial health was further exacerbated as a result of the magnitude 5.8 Virginia earthquake on August 23, 2011, which caused tens of thousands of dollars in structural damage to the church building.

Revitalization of the greater 14th Street neighborhood, thriving with an influx of new residents, hasn’t been significantly reflected in the church’s once-large congregation.  The rapidly aging denomination, which has experienced a membership crash of its own, no longer makes membership and attendance figures for individual congregations freely available. But the congregation’s recently released annual report is telling.

It’s financial troubles and declining congregation continued, and in 2017 National City was forced to sell the Campbell Building, a wing of the building that housed the educational  facilities of the church.  According to Church Moderator Jane Campbell, the building was “only partially used, had major maintenance issues, and would have cost millions to bring into usable condition – and then we would have had to find tenants as the activities of National City itself no longer fill the building.”

Currently the under-utilized building and diminished congregation continues to operate.  However, whether the National City Christian Church can reverse the overall decline it has experienced in the last half century remains to be seen.   Only time will tell.

The Cenotaphs at Historic Congressional Cemetery

I have found that cemeteries are often bastions of history, especially here in D.C.  The graves of the many historic figures, politicians and famous people buried here provide a portal to the history that they lived.  But Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP), and which happens to be one of my favorite cemeteries in the city, also has a number of cenotaphs that also point to a wealth of history.  And it was the cemetery’s 165 cenotaphs that were the destination and purpose of my lunchtime bike ride today.

Traditionally, the word “cenotaph” is defined as A cenotaph is an “empty tomb” or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.  As used at the Congressional Cemetery, the term cenotaph includes not only those that fall under the traditional definition, but also to monuments that mark the actual graves of representatives and senators who died in office during the first several decades of the nation’s history. Some congressmen are buried under a cenotaph, some are buried with a headstone instead of a cenotaph in a different area of the cemetery, and for some the marker is a true cenotaph. And one individual, a Revolutionary War soldier and Congressman from North Carolina named James Gillespie, who was reinterred in 1892, has a separate grave and cenotaph.

Designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then working on the new south wing of the U.S. Capitol Building, the cenotaphs are constructed of Aquia sandstone, as are The White House and the Capitol Building, and were likewise painted white, forming a visual connection with these nearby symbols of Federal government, and a contrast to the cemetery’s surrounding gravestones. They are grouped in rows in the older part of the cemetery near the main entrance, where they dominate the landscape.

A cenotaph was erected at Congressional Cemetery for each congressman who died in office from 1833 to 1876. The first was for Congressman James Lent from New York, who was initially interred in the cemetery. But after Congress appropriated funds and his monument was ordered, his family had his body brought back and reinterred in New York. Congress erected the monument in 1839 anyway, establishing the tradition of erecting cenotaphs.

After the Civil War very few congressmen were buried in the cemetery, as their bodies were commonly shipped to their home states or buried in the new United States National Cemetery System, in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. And cenotaphs were discontinued for the most part in 1876, after Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar stated that “the thought of being buried beneath one of those atrocities brought new terror to death.”

Since that time, only two new cenotaphs have been erected at the cemetery. After a 1972 plane crash in which their bodies were unable to be recovered, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., the majority leader in the House at the time, and Nick Begich, a Congressman from Alaska, share a cenotaph. And the last one to date is for former Speaker of the House Thomas P “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who was honored with a cenotaph in 1994, although it is not in the style of the Latrobe cenotaphs.