Archive for the ‘Historic Figures’ Category

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.

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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]

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

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The Grave of Charles Forbes

On this lunchtime bike ride I returned to Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) on Capitol Hill, one of my favorite lunchtime biking destinations. I like it because even after numerous rides there, there is still so much more history within the cemetery to be discovered and learned. This time I visited the grave of Charles Forbes, who I often think about whenever I make a mistake at work. Let me explain why.

Forbes was born in Ireland around 1835 and at the age of 26 started working at the White House in 1861, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration. He was one of several house servants assigned to President Lincoln. Quickly becoming a favorite with both the President and Mrs. Lincoln, Forbes became the personal attendant to the President, a position he held for approximately four years. He also occasionally watched out for Mary Todd Lincoln and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III, as well.

And it was during this time working for the President that Forbes made one of the biggest mistakes on the job that anyone has ever made. Forbes accompanied the Lincolns to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. That night Booth approached Forbes, who was seated outside of Lincoln’s box, and gave him his calling card. Forbes then allowed Booth to enter the door to the private box. Moments later the President was mortally wounded.

Forbes remains a mysterious figure in the events of that night. He never gave a witness statement nor did he ever leave a written or verbal account of the assassination of the President. But Mrs. Lincoln remained fond of Forbes, bore him no ill will for the evening’s events, and later presented him with the suit of clothes that Lincoln wore that night.

After Lincoln’s death, Forbes became a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department and later for the Adjutant General’s office. He died October 10, 1885, at his home at 1711 G Street in northwest D.C., leaving his wife Margaret and a daughter, Mary. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Congressional Cemetery until 1984 when The Lincoln Group, a historical society, placed a marker on his grave.

So it was this mistake on the job of Forbes’ that makes me glad that the mistakes I make at work never result in the consequences his mistake did. Even the worst mistakes I could possibly make don’t result in altering the course of history, as his mistake did. So when I mess up, I just think of him and this bike ride, and I feel a little better.

Captain Nathan Hale Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I went to see a statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, which is located outside of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, located at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the city’s  Downtown neighborhood.  I went for two reasons.  First, to see the statue itself.  But the other reason I went to see the statue was to try to determine why it was located where it is.  As far as I know, Hale was not a lawyer or connected in any way to the Justice Department or the Federal government.  And he didn’t even have any known connections to D.C.  So I was curious why the statue was placed where it is.

Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755 in Coventry, Connecticut.  In 1768, at the age of 14, he attended Yale College along with his older brother Enoch.  Hale graduated with first-class honors in 1773 at age 18 and became a teacher in Connecticut, first in East Haddam and later in New London.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Hale joined a Connecticut militia unit.  His unit participated in the Siege of Boston, but Hale remained behind.  It has been speculated by some that he was unsure as to whether he wanted to fight.  On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from his classmate and friend Benjamin Tallmadge, and the letter was so inspiring that, several days later, Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment.

In September of the following year, General George Washington was desperate to determine the location of the imminent British invasion of Manhattan Island. To that end, he needed a spy for the Continental Army behind enemy lines.  Hale was the only volunteer.

During his mission, New York City fell to British forces, and Hale was captured.  Hale was convicted of being a spy, and according to the standards of the time, was sentenced to be hanged the next day as an illegal combatant.  While waiting for the sentence to be carried out, Hale requested a Bible, but his request was denied.  Sometime later, he requested a clergyman.  Again, his request was denied.  The sentence was carried out the next morning, and Hale was hanged.  He was 21 years old.

Hale is best remembered for a speech that he gave just prior to being executed.  It is almost certain that his last speech contained more than one sentence, but it is for the following sentence that he is best remembered.  His last words before facing the gallows were famously reported to be, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  Subsequent to his execution, Hale’s body has never been found.

The original statue honoring Hale was created by American sculptor Bela Pratt in 1912, and stands in front of Connecticut Hall where Hale resided while at Yale.  The statue located at the south façade of the Justice Department building near the corner of 10th Street and Constitution Avenue is a copy of this sculpture.  The D.C. statue is also part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues in D.C. that are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, despite visiting the statue and researching it later, I still have no idea why it is located where it is.  So if you know why, or have a theory, please feel free to share it in the comments section below.

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

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The Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding near Scott Circle in northwest D.C., I saw what looked like commemorative brass plaques on the side of a building.  Wanting to find out more about the plaques and the building, I stopped to look into it.  According to the plaques, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and once belonged to Alexander Graham Bell.  Whetting my appetite to find out more about the house, I researched it later when I got back from my ride.

Originally designed in the Victorian style by John Fraser, with construction finishing in 1879, the house was built for John. T. Brodhead and his family.  Based on a subsequent series of prominent owners, it has come to be known as the Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion, and is located at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Brodhead family did not live there long, however,  In 1882, just three years after construction was completed, Brodhead sold the home to lawyer and financier Gardiner Green Hubbard, the father-in-law of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places registration form, the Hubbards “offered the house to the Bells as an inducement to relocate from the Boston area, and Bell allowed himself to be persuaded.”

However, the original house was not large enough for Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, so they added a two-story addition on the northeast corner and then a third floor with a steep slated roof.  Bell also made other changes to the house, the most interesting of which was the installation of the city’s first electric burglar alarm system.  It was composed of an elaborate system of wires and bells that connected every door and window in the house to a room Bell referred to as the “central office.”  Indicators in the central office would show instantly whenever a door was opened or shut, or only partially opened.  And if anyone tried to enter the house at night, bells would sound.

It’s too bad that Bell installed a burglar alarm system rather than a smoke detector, however, because a fire destroyed much of the building in 1887. Although it was insured, the damage from the fire was more extensive than what the policy covered.  Bell was able to have the mansion restored anyway.

Then in 1889, just a couple of years after the fire, Bell sold the mansion to Levi Parsons Morton just prior to Morton’s swearing in as Vice President under President Benjamin Harrison.  Morton immediately had the building enlarged with a new east wing, that was designed by John Fraser, the home’s original architect.  Some years later, Morton remodeled the house, converting it into the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style that was all the rage at that time.  Under the hand of prominent American architect John Russell Pope, who later designed The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives and Records Administration Building, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, among other important buildings, Morton had the house transformed into its present-day form.

The mansion would go on to have a number of additional prominent owners and residents, including the Embassy of Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root, Massachusetts Congressman Charles Franklin Sprague, and Count Arturo Cassini, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  It then became home to the National Democratic Club, who sold it to the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association.  Finally, in February of last year, it was purchased by the country of Hungary, which moved the Embassy of Hungary there late last year.

I’m glad I noticed the house during this bike ride, and then looked into it later.  The house turned out to have quite a history.  Of course, D.C. is full of history and interesting stories, if you just take the time to look for them.

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

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Saint Ignatius of Loyola Statue

A statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is located in front of White-Gravenor Hall (MAP) on the campus of Georgetown University.  And as I was riding around the sprawling campus on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to check it out.

Born Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the man who would become known as Ignatius of Loyola entered the world on October 23, 1491, in Loiola, Spain.  At the time, the name of the village was spelled “Loyola,” hence the discrepancy in spelling.  Loiola is a small village at the southern end of Azpeitia, in northern Spain, and is where Inigo came of age.  Inigo was the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died when he was just seven, and he was then raised by Maria de Garin, who was the wife of a local blacksmith.  At about the age of eighteen Inigo began to refer to himself as Ignatius, a variant of Inigo, because he thought it sounded more dignified and would bring him wider acclaim and recognition.

During his lifetime he was many things, including a member of the aristocracy in a Basque noble family, a knight, and a hermit.  He was also an officer in the Spanish Army.  It was during this time in the military that he was struck by a cannonball in the leg.  Oddly, he thought that his leg had been set poorly after the cannonball incident and that, as a result, he wouldn’t look good in his courtier’s tights. So he had a doctor rebreak his leg and start over.  Eventually part of his leg had to be amputated and caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  It was during his time recuperating from his injury that he became a devout Christian.  And by the spring of the following year, Ignatius had recovered enough to leave bed.

On March 25, 1522, he entered the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat.  And beginning in 1537 he became a priest and theologian who would eventually go on to found the religious order called the Society of Jesus. Some people did not appreciate the Society of Jesus and dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them. While the name stuck, by virtue of their good work the label lost its negative connotation.  The Jesuit Order served the Pope as missionaries, and they were bound by a vow of absolute obedience to the Pope.

The Jesuits would soon find a niche in education. Before Ignatius died, it established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. Today, the Jesuit Order is known for its work in educating the youth around the globe. Several universities have been founded in the name of Ignatius and in the traditional Jesuit spirit, including  Georgetown University, which is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in the United States.

Ignatius was beatified in 1609, and then canonized, receiving the title of Saint on March 12, 1622.  Saint Ignatius is venerated as the patron saint of educators and education, Catholic soldiers, the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Jesuit Society, all spiritual retreats, the Basque country, and various towns and cities in his native region.  He died on July 31, 1556, his feast day in the Catholic Church, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe case of malaria that recurred in Rome, Italy, at different points in history.

However, Ignatius was not always very saintly.  During much of his young adult life he was vain, with dreams of personal honor and fame. According to one of  Ignatius’ biographers, he was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, a gambler, and a rough punkish swordsman who was arrested but used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother.  One time, upon encountering a Moor who denied the divinity of Jesus, he challenged him to a duel to the death and ran him through with his sword.  Another time, he allowed the donkey on which he was riding to determine whether he should follow and murder someone he thought had insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fortunately, the donkey chose the path that led away from the insulter.  Ignatius is said to have dueled many other men as well, gaining a reputation in his time.  As some have noted, having been arrested for nighttime brawling with intent to inflict serious harm, he may be the only saint with a notarized police record.

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Nelson Mandela Statue at the South African Embassy

On this bike ride I stopped outside the South African Embassy, located at 3051 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood, to see a statue of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela was a South African activist and former president of that country who helped bring an end to apartheid, a system of segregation or discrimination based on race, and went on to become a global advocate for human rights and for AIDS awareness and prevention.

Born with the name Rolihlahla into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the village of Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, the name means “to pull a branch off a tree” and “troublemaker.”  The man who would come to be know as Nelson, a name given to him at the age of seven by his teacher on his first day of elementary school, grew up in a rural area where he engaged in herding animals.  His father passed away when he was 12 years old. Afterwards, wealthy relatives had custody of him, and he attended boarding school.  He later attended Fort Hare Missionary College, but was eventually expelled for organizing a strike against the white rule of the college.

A member of the African National Congress party beginning in the 1940s, he was a leader of both peaceful protests and armed resistance against the white minority’s oppressive regime in a racially divided South Africa. His actions landed him in prison for almost three decades and made him the face of the antiapartheid movement both within his country and internationally.  While in prison, he was told in 1985 that if he stopped his acts of violence, he would be allowed to go free.  He did not agree to this provision and remained incarcerated for another five years.  Finally released in 1990, he participated in the eradication of apartheid which culminated in 1994 when he became the first black president of South Africa, forming a multiethnic government to oversee the country’s transition.

After retiring from politics in 1999, he remained a devoted champion for peace and social justice in his own nation and around the world until his death in 2013 at the age of 95.

The statue resembles Mandela’s pose, his right arm extended into a fist above his head, on this day 27 years ago today (1990) when he was released from over 27 years of incarceration.  And the statue is in an ideal D.C. location, because it is on the same spot where daily anti-apartheid demonstrations took place, led by Randall Robinson, the noted author and activist, Georgetown professor Eleanor Holmes-Norton, civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry, and former D.C. Congressional Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy, beginning in November of 1984.

“We entered this building nearly 29 years ago,” Robinson said, with the belief that the struggles for justice in the United States and South Africa were inextricably “bound up together.”  At one point, Robinson recalled in his remarks, Norton left the meeting to speak with those waiting outside. Then the others announced they were not leaving until the government began to dismantle apartheid and released political prisoners, starting with Mandela.

They did leave, but under arrest and in handcuffs.  Their arrests were followed by more than 4,000 others as the protests continued day after day, month after month, until apartheid in South Africa finally ended a decade later, and Mandela became president of that country.

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

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Sir William Blackstone Statue

Being on leave from work for the past several weeks, first for the holidays and then unexpectedly for personal reasons, has made me miss my lunchtime excursions to explore the city.  But I am back in the office now, and on my first outing of the new year I encountered a statue located in front of but off to the side near the United States Courthouse.  That statue is of William Blackstone, and like many of the statues and memorials here in D.C. it has an interesting backstory.

Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge and politician of the eighteenth century who is best known for writing a four-volume work on English law. These volumes, known as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, would not only dominate the common law legal system for more than a century, but also help shape America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and have a substantial influence in American law.  His Commentaries would also influence the likes of  Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln.  And to this day, his Commentaries still continue to be cited in Supreme Court decisions.

In the early 1920’s the American Bar Association presented a sculpture of Blackstone to the English Bar Association.  The gift, however, was too tall to be placed in the Royal Courts of Justice.  The sculpture, designed by American artist Paul Wayland Bartlett, was later cast in Europe and the statue was presented back to the United States for display.

The bronze statue is a nine-foot standing portrait of Blackstone dressed in his judicial robes and long curly wig, and holding a copy of his legal publication entitled “Commentaries” in his left hand.  It is elevated on a granite base.  Congress approved the placement of the sculpture in 1943, and appropriated $10,000 for the installation.  It was installed later that year under the authority of the National Park Service.  The statue is on the grounds of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, at 333 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

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