Posts Tagged ‘President Harry S. Truman’

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The Oscar S. Straus Memorial

The Oscar S. Straus Memorial is located just two blocks south of The White House, in the Federal Triangle on 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue, in front of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (MAP), and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

The memorial commemorates the accomplishments of the first Jew to be a member of the cabinet of a U.S. president, having served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1909.  He also served under Presidents William Howard Taft, William McKinley, and Grover Cleveland, and was offered a cabinet position by Theodore Roosevelt.

Oscar Solomon Straus was born on December 23, 1850, in Otterberg, Rhenish Bavaria, now in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate (now Germany).  At the age of two he immigrated with his mother and siblings to the United States, joining their father, Lazarus, who had emigrated in 1852.  The family settled in Talbotton, Georgia.  At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Straus’s family moved to New York City, where he graduated from Columbia College in 1871 and Columbia Law School in 1873.  In 1882, Strauss married Sarah Lavanburg, and they had three children: Mildred Straus Schafer (born the following year), Aline Straus Hockstader (born in 1889), and Roger Williams Straus (born in 1891).

Straus first served as United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1887 to 1889, and then again from 1898 to 1899. In January of 1902, he was named a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to fill the place left vacant by the death of ex-President Benjamin Harrison. Then in December of 1906, Straus became the United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Roosevelt. This position also placed him in charge of the United States Bureau of Immigration.  Straus left the Commerce Department in 1909 when William Howard Taft became president and became U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire until 1910.  In 1912, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York on the Progressive and Independence League tickets. And in 1915, he became chairman of the public service commission of New York State.

The memorial fountain was designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman, and funded with a public subscription beginning in 1929.  It was dedicated on October 26, 1947, by President Harry S. Truman. It was disassembled and placed in storage in 1991 during the construction of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. After the building was completed, the fountain was reinstalled with all original materials. It was rededicated on October 26, 1998.

In the center of the memorial is the massive fountain with the inscription “statesman, author, diplomat.”  To the sides are two statues.  The one to the left is one entitled Justice, which depicts a woman representing “Justice,” with her arm resting on the Ten Commandments.   It is intended to symbolize the religious freedom which allowed a Jew to serve in such a position of authority.  The inscription on this statue reads, “Our Liberty of Worship is not a Concession nor a Privilege but an Inherent Right.”   To the right of the fountain is the statue entitled Reason.  It depicts a partially draped male figure and a child holding a purse, key, and hammer, symbolizing the capital and labor efforts put forth by Straus throughout his career.

Straus died on September 3, 1910, and is buried at Beth El Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.  For more on his life and career, you can read his memoirs, entitled  “Under Four Administrations,” which he wrote and published in 1922.  

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Montford Point Marines Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I found myself in Arlington National Cemetery.  And  because bike riding is prohibited in the cemetery, I decided to go for a walk.  It was during my walk that I happened upon a marker in the shade of a tree, in Section 23 of the cemetery, off Farragut Drive (MAP).  On the marker is an inscription that reads:

“The footprints of the Montford Point Marines were left on the beaches of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The tides and winds have, long ago, washed them out into the seas of history; but,
“The Chosen Few”
in field shoes and canvas leggings, also left their marks in the firm concrete of Marine Corps history. And as new generations of Marines learn to march in those footprints, their cadence assumes the proud stride of the men of Montford Point.”
Gen. Leonard F. Chapman, Jr.

So later, after I got back from my ride, I decided to do some research on the marker, and the Montford Point marines, to learn more about them.

The marker was placed in the cemetery and dedicated on November 13, 1996, by the Montford Point Marine Association, as a memorial to the legacy of the first African-Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, which took place after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order in June 1941, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission and ordering the armed services, including the Marine Corps, to recruit and enlist African Americans.

These marines got their name because they trained at the then-segregated Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina, beginning on August 26, 1942.  Between 1942 and 1949, more than 20,000 men were trained at Montford Point.  In July 1948, despite strong opposition from Democrats of the segregated South, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which required the desegregation of the military.   The resulting changes caused the camp do be decommissioned in September of the following year, and new African-American recruits were then-after trained along with other marines at Parris Island and Camp Pendleton.

Some of the more notable Montford Point marines include: Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the first African Americans to enlist and serve as a drill instructor in the Marine Corps; Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American officer of the United States Marine Corps; David Dinkins, former Mayor of New York City; Arthur Earley, Pennsylvania State Representative, and; Marion Meredith Beal, an original member and a recipient of Congressional Gold Medal as an appreciation for the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, we only know the names of about 1,200 of the approximately 20,000 Montford Point marines. Only approximately 300 of these marines are still alive, and we are losing them rapidly, which makes memorials like this one all the more important.

Note:  There is also an official memorial to the Montford Point Marines located within the LeJeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C., and a Montford Point Marine Museum, located on the grounds of Montford Point Camp in the East Wing of building M101, Marine Corps Base, Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, Jacksonville, N.C.

National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual observance inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation.  It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress which requested the President to proclaim a day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation in places of worship, in groups, and as individuals.  It was subsequently signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.  In 1988, the law was unanimously amended by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Thursday, May 5, 1988, designating the first Thursday of May as a day of national prayer.  Each year since its inception, the president has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.

It was announced late last year that the theme for this year’s observance is “Pray for America – Unity,” based upon Ephesians 4:3, which challenges believers to mobilize unified public prayer for America, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

In recognition of this year’s observance, during today’s bike ride I stopped by the American Center for Prayer and Revival, located in the basement of 117 2nd Street (MAP), right across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court Building, in northeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.  There they provided a prayer room, a red, white and blue “Pray” button for me to wear for the rest of the day, and a pre-packaged Eucharist pack with both wine and a communion wafer.

The American Center for Prayer and Revival is a center designed for day-and-night prayer in the National Capitol city, much like David’s Tent is for worship.  Through hosting teams of intercessors who maintain a 24/7 prayer vigil focused on asking God for a spiritual re-awakening and re-evangelization across our country and among our nation’s leaders.  Believing that only a powerful movement of repentant prayer and engagement in God’s Word will bring America back to spiritual life again, the center hopes to see a true religious revival in the United States, much like the great awakenings led by Jonathan Edwards in the 1750s and Charles Finney in the 1850s.

As I left and passed by the Supreme Court building, it made me wonder about the legality of the National Day of Prayer, and if it had yet been challenged in court.  Some people might say that it is wrong for the President to issue such a proclamation, contending that it is improper for the government to do so because it violates the separation of church and state and is, therefore, unconstitutional.

But while looking into the National Day of Prayer and learning more about it, I discovered that it has been challenged in court.  And the court ruled that it is perfectly legal.

In October of 2008, an organization named the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to challenge the constitutionality of the designation of a National Day of Prayer. On October 3, 2008, the Wisconsin-based organization filed suit in a federal court in Madison, naming as defendants President George W. Bush; White House press secretary Dana Perino; Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle; and evangelist James Dobson’s wife, Shirley Dobson, in her capacity as chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.  After initially being declared unconstitutional in April of 2010 by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Crabb’s decision.

The panel ruled that the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue because the National Day of Prayer had not caused them harm and stated that “a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.” The court further stated that “the President is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens’ rights.”  In its issued opinion, the Federal appeals court even cited President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which referenced God seven times and prayer three times.

         
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The Harry S. Truman Scholarship

There is a long tradition of creating presidential monuments and memorials to honor our country’s past presidents and perpetuate their legacies.  This is especially the case in our nation’s capital.  The most well-known local presidential memorials are the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.  Some presidents even have more than one memorial to them here in D.C.  For example, Franklin Roosevelt’s original desk-sized memorial in front of the National Archives Building and the 7.5 acre FDR Memorial near the Tidal Basin, which are the smallest and largest presidential memorials in the city.

But on this bike ride I went to see one of the most unusual of all the presidential memorials – the one created for Harry S. Truman.  Or to be more accurate, I went to the house where the memorial resides.  Because instead of a statue, the official Federal memorial to our nation’s 33rd President is the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.  And under law, it is the only Federal memorial allowed to honor its namesake president.

The scholarship was created by Congress in 1975 as a living memorial to honor President Truman.  It is a highly competitive $30,000 Federal scholarship towards a graduate education, and is granted to approximately 55-65 U.S. college juniors each year for demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service.

The scholarship is administered by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which is an independent Federal executive branch agency.  The foundation is headquartered in a brick rowhouse located at 712 Jackson Place, near Lafayette Square Park, in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  The building I saw on this ride was not all that interesting.  But learning all about the foundation and scholarship made up for that. 

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Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain

On this lunchtime bike ride, I visited a fountain just down the street from my office. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, at its intersection with Constitution Avenue and 6th Street (MAP), and is known as The Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain. The fountain serves as a tribute to Andrew Mellon, who in addition to being known as a famous Pittsburgh industrialist and financier, also served as Secretary of the Treasury, ambassador to Great Britain, and was the founder of the National Gallery of Art, which the fountain is located just north of.

The round, tiered fountain is comprised of a series of three small-to-large nested bronze basins which empty water into its pebble-lined granite pool. The outer, and largest, bronze basin is engraved with the twelve signs of the zodiac, each sitting in its correct astrological position for the sun’s rays. And the top basin houses a spouting jet that shoots a stream of water up to twenty feet in the air, before falling back down and cascading through the tiers and into fountain’s base. Surrounding the fountain is a seven-foot wide granite walkway, and a semi-circular granite bench with an inscription that reads, “1855.Andrew W. Mellon.1937; Financier Industrialist Statesman; Secretary of the Treasury 1921-1932 Ambassador to Great Britain 1932-1933; Founder of the National Gallery Of Art 1937; This Fountain Is A Tribute From His Friends.”

The fountain was dedicated during a ceremony on May 9, 1952, which was presided over by President Harry S. Truman. And in 1993, when the fountain was surveyed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! Program, it was still described as “well maintained.” However, over the past quarter century the fountain had fallen into a state of disrepair. In fact, beginning in 2008 the fountain was no longer operational. So on September 25th of last year, the National Park Service transferred custody of the fountain and the surrounding triangular park to the National Gallery of Art, so that it could be restored.

The restoration and renovation of the fountain and site was divided into two phases. The first phase of the project included conservation of the three-tiered bronze fountain, revival of the original landscaping plan, and replacement of sophisticated mechanical waterworks that power the fountain spout and cascades. That phase was completed earlier this year, and was unveiled on March 17, 2016. Phase two of the project includes rehabilitation of the plaza and memorial bench around the fountain, and is scheduled to be completed in the summer of next year.

Given the newly restored condition of the fountain itself, and the ambitious schedule for the remainder of the project, at least according to D.C. standards, I think it’s a shame that ownership of many other fountains in the city cannot immediately be transferred to the National Gallery of Art.

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J. Edgar Hoover’s Gravesite

Arguably one of the most powerful men in the history of D.C, he was never elected to public office.  He was born in D.C., but no birth certificate or public record was ever filed, despite the fact that it was legally required at the time.  He went through the D.C. public school system, and attended college in D.C. as well at The George Washington University, where he obtained both a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Master of Laws degree.  He lived his entire life in the nation’s capitol, died here, and is now buried at Historic Congressional Cemetery in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP).  That man was J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover was born on New Year’s Day in 1895, and died on May 2, 1972.  Appointed in 1924 as the Director of the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor to the FBI, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he became its first Director.  He remained the Bureau’s Director for 37 years, until his death in 1972 at age 77.

Hoover’s professional legacy at the FBI is mixed.  He was noted as being capricious in his leadership.  He singled out FBI Agents who he thought “looked stupid like truck drivers,” or that he considered “pinheads.”  He frequently fired FBI Agents, and also relocated Agents who had displeased him to career-ending assignments and locations.   And it is because Hoover’s actions came to be seen as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term.  However, Hoover is also credited with building the FBI into a premier crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to law enforcement technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Hoover’s private life is also subject to interpretation and speculation, and opinions of the man are varied as well.  Beginning decades before his death rumors began circulating that the lifelong bachelor was a homosexual.  Some historians speculate that Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s second in command at the FBI, and who also never married, may have been his lover.  Other scholars dismiss rumors about Hoover’s sexuality, and his relationship with Tolson in particular, as unlikely.  Still other scholars have reported the rumors without expressing an opinion.

Clyde Tolson is best known as the protégé and companion of Hoover, who described Tolson as his alter ego.  The men worked closely together during the day and, both single, frequently took meals, went to night clubs, and vacationed together.  Hoover bequeathed his estate to Tolson, who moved into Hoover’s house upon the FBI Director’s death, and also accepted the American flag that draped Hoover’s casket.  Tolson’s gravesite is just a few yards away from J. Edgar Hoover’s grave.

Despite the varying interpretations of Hoover and the disagreements that will never be settled, most would agree that during his era he was a very powerful man.  Perhaps exemplifying this was the opinion of President Harry S. Truman, who once said that “J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Even after his death, Hoover’s presence loomed large in D.C.  By regulation and custom, only Presidents, military commanders, and members of Congress are granted the honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Building‘s rotunda.  Of the 31 people, including 11 Presidents, who have been granted this honor, there has been only one exception.  That exception was J. Edgar Hoover.

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