Archive for the ‘Historic Figures’ Category

28 Blocks

During today’s bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail I encountered a large mural on the facade of the Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street (MAP), in northeast D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood. In addition to its massive size, what initially caught my attention was the realism and unusual yet simple gray tones that give the mural the appearance of an old black-and-white photograph.

The mural is entitled “28 Blocks,” and is the creation of American artist Garin Baker. Baker resides in New York City and is a traditionally trained realist painter, but his professional career spans across artistic disciplines. Baker spent four months hand-painting the 60’ by 160’ mural on 156 sections of parachute cloth in his studio. He then brought the work to D.C., and used a special polymer glue to attach the mural to the facade of the building, followed by a final coating and varnish that add UV and graffiti protection, thus requiring only minimal maintenance for many years.

The mural gets its name from the 28 blocks of marble used between 1914 and 1922 to erect the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic 120-ton marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. In fact, even the image of the Lincoln statue within the mural is only a peripheral image to provide context to the focus of the work. The mural depicts and is intended as a tribute to the men who are responsible for cutting out, hauling, carving and erecting the iconic Lincoln Memorial statue, which was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and planned by architect Henry Bacon. Most of those men were first or second generation black men who were born free, or Italian immigrants.

A quote from Frederick Douglass is also prominently featured on the mural. It reads: “Without culture there can be no growth; Without exertion, no acquisition; Without friction, no polish; Without labor, no knowledge; Without action, no progress. And without conflict, no victory.”

According to Baker, the color scheme of black, white and gray is intentional and carries symbolism. “People see things in black and white, but it’s really not the full story,” he said. “Only through all the shades of gray do we see the full truth.”

The mural is conveniently positioned adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which gives cyclists, joggers and walkers a front row seat to view it. But not only that, the trail runs parallel to the train tracks that not only carries commuters and other riders on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet University and New York Avenue stations, but also ferries people from New York to Union Station, allowing them to see the mural out their windows just before reaching the station. Officials with the city’s Department of General Services say 50,000 or more people a day can see the mural. I’m glad I was one of them today.

 

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

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Anton Hilberath

Despite Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) usually being thought of as a place where America lays to rest its heroes and honored dead, there are also “enemies” buried there.  From its very beginning,  the cemetery has also been the final resting place of individuals considered to be enemy combatants.  It began with Confederate soldiers.  At the time they were buried they were considered the enemy.  However, most people no longer consider them as such.  In addition to the Confederate soldiers, I was surprised to learn that there are also three foreign prisoners of war from World War II laid to rest there.  So on this bike ride, I set out to find them.

During World War II there were approximately 435,788 prisoners of war held in more than 900 camps in 46 states, plus Alaska, which was not yet a state.  The vast majority of these prisoners were from the German military, although there were also approximately 51,455 Italians and 5,435 Japanese held in the United States.  Of these men, there is one German prisoner of war, named Anton Hilberath, buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Although his is the only grave there, he is one of at least 830 German prisoners of war who died and were buried in the United States.  Of the Italian prisoners of war held in the United States, there are only two buried at Arlington National.  Their names are Mario Batista and Arcangelo Prudenza.  All three were captured and taken prisoner during the African Campaign in North Africa.  They were then shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and held on Maryland’s eastern shore.  There they were permitted to work on farms, for modest pay, since it was decided that they presented no risk to people in the area and likely would not try to escape.

All three died in captivity in 1946, and were buried in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, which stated that if a prisoner of war or a foreign national died in another country during World War II, they should be buried in the closest national cemetery of that country.  So with Arlington National being the closest national cemetery, all three men were buried there.

Little information is available about these three men, or most of the other prisoners, inasmuch as virtually all records of prisoners were transferred to military authorities in their home countries through the International Red Cross.  So unfortunately, the lost and the incomplete records that remain, compounded by the passage of time, means that it is likely we will never know much more about these men than the information contained on their headstones – their names, ranks, and when they died.

Having seen German, Italian, as well as Japanese tourists visiting The National World War II Memorial on the National Mall here in D.C., I find it increasingly difficult to remember how these people were so negatively viewed in this country less than a lifetime ago.  And that’s a good thing.

Mario Batista

Arcangelo Prudenza

Statue of Mayor Marion Barry

This past weekend a statue was unveiled in front of the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor’s office and the D.C. Council, and is located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), just blocks from the White House.  The statue is of a man who to some people was a “living legend” who advocated for the city’s poor.  To others he was a controversial figure, best remembered for being re-elected mayor despite serving a prison sentence for possession of crack cocaine.  The statue is a memorial to former D.C. “Mayor For Life” Marion Barry, who died at age 78 in 2014, and is buried here in the city in Historic Congressional Cemetery.

The 8-foot-tall, bronze statue of Barry was created by Maryland-based sculptor Steven Weitzman.  The statue was commissioned by the Executive Office of the Mayor in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Marion Barry Commission, with its estimated cost of approximately $300,000.00 paid for by a combination of both taxpayer and private funds.  It is the first permanent public honor the District has given Barry, and one of only three full-body statues in the city of African Americans.

Barry’s supporters contend that Barry embodied the spirit of Washington and point to his: work in the 1960’s as a civil rights activist; serving as the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; being elected to the D.C. Board of Education; being elected to a seat on D.C.’s first elected city council; serving for a total of 16 years on the city council, the last 13 of which after he was shot by radical Hanafi muslims, from a breakaway sect of the Nation of Islam, when they overran the District Building in March of 1977; becoming the first prominent civil rights activist to become chief executive of a major American city, serving four terms as the city’s mayor, and; a number of notable achievements such as the founding the city’s summer jobs program which is now named after him.

But Barry’s detractors say he was also very controversial, and continued to be plagued throughout his life and career by: various legal problems such as failing to file tax returns and pay taxes; a variety of traffic violations including drunk driving and, at one point, accumulating over $2,800.00 in unpaid tickets for speeding and parking violations; conflicts of interest while in office, including personally benefiting from awarding a city contract to his then girlfriend;  being caught on videotape being arrested and subsequently convicted of smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room with an ex-model and propositioning her for sex, and; making racist remarks about Asian Americans at a party celebrating his primary victory during the election when he was elected to his last term on the city council, on which he served until his death.

Regardless of personal opinions about him, Barry’s legacy might best be summarized by the campaign slogan he adopted when he emerged from prison and dove straight back into politics: “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”

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

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

In this country we do not have a king or royalty.  Instead, we have an elected president. And unlike a king, our president does not have a throne.  But if our president did have a throne, today I saw the one upon which our current president would probably sit.  The throne looks like something that might have come directly out of President Trump’s private home or office.  However, it is instead located in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is located at 8th and F Streets (MAP), in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The throne is named “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly”, and it is a piece of folk art created by an African-American janitor and outsider or naïve artist named James Hampton.

Hampton was born in Elloree, South Carolina, in 1909.  In 1928, he moved to D.C. and shared an apartment with his older brother, Lee.  Hampton subsequently worked as a short order cook, served in the Air Force where he worked as a carpenter, and eventually became a night janitor with the General Services Administration.

Hampton never worked as an artist, or even had any formal training in art techniques, art history, or art theory.  But shortly after his brother’s death he began spending his time during his off-hours in a rented garage secretly creating a large assemblage of religious art, including the throne, as a monument to God.  However, he was a man of extremely modest means.  So he created his art, and built the throne, out of various old and recycled materials like aluminum and gold foil, old furniture, pieces of cardboard, old light bulbs, shards of mirror, jelly jars, coffee cans, and old desk blotters, which he bound together using tacks, pins, tape and glue.

It is unknown if Hampton, who also referred to himself as Saint James, Director of Special Projects for the State of Eternity, ever thought of himself as an artist.  He created the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly in complete obscurity.  In fact, it was only upon his death in 1964, when the owner of the garage which he rented sought to rent the space out again, that Hampton’s work was discovered.  As best can be determined by art historians, Saint James dedicated his off-work hours from about 1950 until his death fourteen years later to assembling The Throne.

The Throne eventually landed in the possession of the Smithsonian and, thankfully, became part of our national folk art heritage instead of our modern political tradition and culture.

         

         

         

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

Note:  These photographs do not begin do The Throne justice.  In person it is absolutely massive sitting in it’s dark purple alcove.  And the play of light off the foil and mirrors not only makes it shine, but it seems to actually glow.  I highly recommend seeing it in person to experience its full effect.

Benjamin Bannekar Park

During today’s bike ride I found myself riding in a traffic circle near the south end of L’Enfant Promenade and the intersection of Interstate 395 and Maine Avenue (MAP), in Southwest D.C.  Located within the traffic circle is a little used and rather neglected park.  Although I had been there before, I knew almost nothing about the park other than it’s name, Benjamin Bannekar Park.  So I decided to find out more about it.

Operated by the National Park Service, it was designed by modern landscape architect Dan Kiley and constructed in 1967.  But the small park that comprises the terminus of L’Enfant Plaza initially had no name.  However, after Congress passed legislation in 1998 authorizing a memorial in D.C. to Benjamin Bannekar, the park was chosen and named in his honor.

The 200-foot wide elliptical park sits atop a hill with grassy expanses surrounding it.  It’s elevated location offers of the D.C. Waterfront to the south, including The District Wharf and the Maine Avenue Fish Market.  The park’s circular plaza forms a conical central water feature of more than 30 feet in height when in operation, and combined with concentric rings of London plane trees and low concrete walls make the setting makes for a nice respite from the city, especially to workers in the numerous office buildings along L’Enfant Plaza.

The park’s namesake, Benjamin Banneker, was born on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland, to Mary Banneky, a free black, and Robert, a freed slave from Guinea, who became a primarily self-taught astronomer, mathmetician, naturalist, farmer, almanac author, abolitionist, writer and surveyor.  Banneker’s knowledge of astronomy helped him author a commercially successful series of almanacs.  He also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of slavery and racial equality.  Abolitionists and advocates of racial equality promoted and praised his works.  Unfortunately, most of his written works were lost due to a fire that occurred on the day of his funeral.

What he is best known for, and the reason for a memorial in his honor here in D.C., is that Bannekar was part of a group, led by Major Andrew Ellicott, that surveyed the original borders and set the original boundary stones of the District, thus helping Pierre Charles L’Enfant design the national capital city.

Sadly, years of neglect have caused Benjamin Bannekar Park to fall into a state of severe disrepair.  And the numerous renovation discussions that have occurred in the past have not resulted in any significant changes.

But that is now changing. With the opening of the first section of The District Wharf, the National Park Service, in cooperation with the National Capital Planning Commission, began constructing an improved pedestrian connection between the National Mall and Memorial Parks and the waterfront along Maine Avenue, which includes a stairway and ramp between the overlook at Benjamin Banneker Park and the southwest waterfront.  The rest of the renovation project, which is currently underway, also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management.  If all goes as proposed, the park will not only be restored to it’s former glory, but exceed it. I look forward to going back and seeing it again once the renovation is completed.

         

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

The Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre Memorial

I have been taking photographs during my lunchtime bike rides and posting them in this blog for over four years now.  But it wasn’t until today’s ride that I visited a memorial to a man who contributed to making that possible.  During this ride I visited the memorial to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype, which was the first viable photographic process.

The Daguerre Memorial is located at 7th and F Streets (MAP), across the street from the Verizon Center,  in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.  It stands on the grounds of the Old Patent Office Building, which is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.  The 11-foot tall bronze sculpture, by American artist Jonathan Scott Hartley, was erected in the rotunda of the Arts and Industries Building at the instigation of the Professional Photographers of America, and was unveiled and dedicated on August 15, 1890 during the eleventh annual PPA convention.

In 1897, during a renovation of the building, the memorial was moved outside to the grounds, where it remained for the next 72 years.  In the early 1960’s The Kodak Company tried to have the statue moved to its George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, the oldest museum in the world dedicated to photography.  But the Smithsonian Institution said no.  But then a few years later, in 1969, it was removed and out it storage, and was not on public view for the next two decades.  In 1989, in honor of the 150th anniversary of photography, the Daguerre Memorial was re-dedicated and placed in it’s current location.

The subject of the memorial, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, better known as Louis Daguerre, was born on November 18, 1787.  He was an accomplished French painter and a developer of the diorama theatre.  But he was most famous for his contributions to photography.

Deguerre became interested in the 1820’s in the process of reproducing images by light exposure, which was first invented by a man named Nicéphore Niépce in 1822.  In 1829 Daguerre partnered with Niépce, and after refining the process significantly, lent his name to the improved process, which became known as the daguerreotype process.

A daguerreotype, unlike its predecessor, required only minutes of light exposure to fix an image on a light-sensitive, polished silver plate, thus creating a usable image that was then refined with various chemicals.  The improvement was so significant that the French Academy of Science acquired the intellectual property rights to the process and on August 19, 1839, the French Government presented the invention as a gift from France “free to the world”, and complete working instructions were published.   Because of this, it became the first photographic process to be used widely in Europe and the United States, and caused Deguerre to become known as one of the fathers of photography.

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

Note:  Inscriptions on the front and sides of the granite base of the memorial read:  Photography, The Electric Telegraph, And The Steam Engine Are The Three Great Discoveries Of The Age.;  No Five Centuries In Human Progress Can Show Such Strides As These. (and);  To Commemorate The First Half-Century In Photography 1839-1889. Erected By The Photographer’s Association Of America, August, 1890.

Charles Hamilton Houston House

As I happened to be riding down Swann Street in northwest D.C.’s U Street Corridor neighborhood during this lunchtime bike ride I noticed an historic marker sign on a wrought iron fence in front of an otherwise non-descript brick row house.  So as I am prone to do, I immediately stopped so I could read the sign and find out why it was there.  From the sign I discovered the house, located at 1444 Swann Street (MAP), was the childhood home of Charles Hamilton Houston.  Later as an adult, Houston lived there again along with his wife, Henrietta Williams Houston.  Later after the ride I researched him to find about him.  In addition to information on the sign (below), here is what I learned.

Charles Hamilton Houston was born on September 3, 1895, here in D.C., to William Le Pré Houston, an attorney, and his wife, Mary Hamilton Houston, a teacher.  And as I would find out, his parents’ occupations would greatly influence their son’s life.

Houston attended segregated local schools, graduating from the academic (college preparatory) program at M Street High School (now Dunbar High School) at the age of 15.   He then went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1915, before returning to D.C., where be began teaching English at Howard University.  The following year, however, Houston joined the Army and served as second lieutenant in France during World War I.  Upon returning from the war in 1919, Houston began attending  Harvard University Law School, where he  was the first black student elected to the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity which was founded by and for black students.  He would go on to graduate cum laude with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922, and receive the Doctor of Juridical Science the following year.  That same year he was awarded a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to study at the University of Madrid.  In 1924 he again returned to D.C, and joined the faculty at Howard University Law School and his father’s law firm.

From 1929 through 1935, Houston served as Vice-Dean and then Dean of the Howard University School of Law.  During this time he worked hard to develop the school, turning it into a major national center for training black lawyers.  He extended its part-time program to a full-time curriculum and gained accreditation by the Association of American Law Schools and the American Bar Association.  During this time Houston served as a mentor to a generation of young black lawyers and influenced nearly a quarter of all black lawyers in the country, including former student Thurgood Marshall, who became the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Houston believed that the law could be used to fight racial discrimination and encouraged his students to work for such social purpose.

Houston left Howard in 1935 to serve as the first special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving in this role until 1940. In this capacity he created litigation strategies to attack racial housing covenants and segregated schools, arguing several important civil rights cases. Through his work at the NAACP, Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown verses Board of Education.  Houston played a significant role in dismantling Jim Crow laws, especially attacking segregation in schools and racial housing covenants. He earned the title “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow”.

Sadly, Houston died from a heart attack on April 22, 1950, at the young age of 54.  It’s a shame to think had he lived how much more good he might have also been able to do during the civil rights movement.


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

The Department of Justice Building

Many people are not aware that eight Nazi saboteurs landed on our country’s shores early during World War II with the intent to commit sabotage.  Their names were George John Dasch, Ernst Peter Burger, Herbert Haupt, Heinrich Heinck, Eddie Kerling, Herman Otto Neubauer, Richard Quirin, and Werner Thiel.  Even fewer are aware that during this week in 1942, six of those saboteurs were executed here in D.C.

Operation Pastorius was a failed German plan for sabotage inside the U.S. during World War II. The operation was staged in June of 1942 and was to be directed against strategic American homeland targets.  In all, eight saboteurs were dropped off near shore by Nazi submarines and were able to make it to the U.S. mainland — four of them near Long Island, New York and the other four near Jacksonville, Florida.  After one of them turned himself in, the largest manhunt in the history of the FBI began for the remaining seven.  Within nine days, all of the saboteurs were captured.

Fearful that a civilian court would be too lenient, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Proclamation 2561 on July 2, 1942, creating a military tribunal to prosecute the German agents under a veil of secrecy.  Lawyers for the accused attempted to have the case tried in a civilian court but were rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that was later cited as a precedent for trial by military tribunal of any unlawful combatant against the U.S., including those currently being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay as part of the War on Terror.

The military tribunal took place in July of 1942 in Assembly Hall # 1 on the fifth floor of the U.S. Justice Department building on Pennsylvania Avenue.  All eight would-be saboteurs pleaded innocent, denouncing any allegiance to Adolph Hitler or the Third Reich. The prosecution, headed by the U.S. Attorney General, asked for the tribunal, consisting of seven military generals, for the death penalty.  All eight Germans were found guilty.   Exactly one month later, based on the Presidentially approved recommendation of the military tribunal, six of the eight were executed in the electric chair on the third floor of the D.C. Jail.  They were subsequently buried in a potter’s field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia area of D.C.  The other two Germans, George John Dasch and Ernst Peter Burger, were sentenced to terms of 30 years to life at hard labor.

On today’s bike ride, I went by the U.S. Department of Justice Building where the first military tribunal against an enemy combatant was held.  I also rode by the District of Columbia jail, where they were executed in the electric chair on the third floor.  I also rode to the Anacostia neighborhood in southeast D.C., where those who were executed were buried in unmarked graves in a potters field.

A look at the statistics will show how things have changed dramatically over the past 71 years.  During World War II, there were a total of eight enemy combatants charged by the U.S.   All eight were tried, convicted and sentenced, and the sentences were carried out.  There were only 57 days between June 12th when the Germans first landed on U.S. soil with plans to commit sabotage, until their sentences were carried out and they were executed or began serving their prison sentences on August 8th.

By comparison, the statistics for today’s enemy combatants is much different.  In the current military tribunal process, the shortest time between initial capture and conviction was five years, three months and the longest time nine years, seven months.

To date, 779 detainees have been held at the Guantanamo Bay facility since the War on Terror began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Of the 779 detainees, roughly 600 were eventually released without charges, many after being detained for years.  The total number of detainees currently remaining at Guantanamo stands at 41, although 5 of the 41 detainees have been approved by the U.S. for release to home or third countries but remain at Guantanamo.  There have been 15 children under age 18 who have been held at Guantanamo.  Nine Guantanamo detainees have died while in custody, six by suspected suicide. Only seven detainees have been convicted in the War on Terror military tribunals.  And of the 41 detainees that currently remain at Guantanamo, 26 have not yet been charged with a crime.

Today’s ride reinforced for me how important it is to know what your government has done, and is doing.

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Above are the FBI mugshot photos for: 1.George John Dasch;  2. Ernst Peter Burger;  3. Herbert Haupt;  4. Heinrich Heinck; 5. Eddie Kerling; 6. Herman Otto Neubauer; 7. Richard Quirin, and; 8. Werner Thiel.

Protestor in Front of the White House

Robert Todd Lincoln’s Gravesite

On this day in 1926, six days before his eighty-third birthday, Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home.  He was the son of President Abraham Lincoln.  And his grandson, “Bud” Beckwith, who died in 1985, is the last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage.  In observance of the anniversary of his passing, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the sarcophagus, where he is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack.

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn’t make quite the mark on history that his father did, he did have a pretty interesting life.  The following are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about him.

Lincoln was a witness to the assassinations of three presidents, including his father.  The younger Lincoln was there at The Petersen House, where his father was taken after being shot across the street at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.  Years later, while serving as Secretary of War to President James Garfield, he was with the president at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C. when Charles Guiteau shot him.  Garfield died two months later.  Twenty years after that, Lincoln was a guest of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. McKinley died just over a week later.  After that I imagine that future presidents were quietly glad that these events caused Lincoln to believe he was bad luck, because thereafter he refused to attend state events or accept Presidential invitations.

Lincoln’s life was once saved by Edwin Booth, a famous actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  On a crowded platform, Lincoln fell off into the space between the tracks and the platform.  But Booth pulled him by his collar to safety.  The exact date of when this happened is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln.

After having her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Lincoln had a strained relationship with his mother.  Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn’t quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Lincoln, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help, so he had her committed following a hearing that declared her insane.  She was eventually able to gain her release.  However, by that point she felt as though she had been publicly humiliated, and never patched up her relationship with Lincoln before her death.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  And he was part of President Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to end the Civil War, and was the last surviving witness to that event.

Lincoln was also a graduate of Harvard University, on the personal staffs of three Presidents beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, a successful and eventually wealthy lawyer, peripherally involved in politics, successor to George Pullman as company president and later chairman of the board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a dedicated amateur astronomer and golfer, and a participant in the dedication ceremonies for The Lincoln Memorial for his father.

Crittenden02

Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

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