August 7, 1782 – George Washington Creates the Badge of Military Merit, Which Became the Purple Heart

On this day in history, George Washington issued an order to create the Badge of Military Merit to recognize meritorious action.

“… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”

The Badge of Military Merit circa 1783 Image copyright: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

The Badge of Military Merit circa 1783
Image copyright: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

There are only three known recipients of the Badge of Military Merit, all from the American Revolutionary War: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons, later the 2nd Legionary Corps; Sergeant William Brown, 5th Connecticut Regiment, and Sergeant Daniel Bissell, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry (later Colonel of the 5th Infantry).

Once the American Revolution ended, the Badge of Merit was all but forgotten until the 20th century.

In 1932 army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur revived the badge renaming it the Purple Heart. General Order No.3 announced the establishment of the award:

“…By order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the War of the Revolution is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements.

By order of the Secretary of War:
Douglas MacArthur
General, Chief of Staff”

MacArthur himself was the first recipient, on the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1932.

General Pershing (second from left) decorates Brigadier General MacArthur (third from left) with the Distinguished Service Cross.

General Pershing (second from left) decorates Brigadier General MacArthur (third from left) with the Distinguished Service Cross.

The medal is primarily designed to recognize meritorious service. The Purple Heart is also given to soldiers wounded or killed in battle.

In April of 1942 the military allowed posthumous awards of Purple Hearts, and in September 1942 the War Department designated the award to be given exclusively for wounds or deaths in combat.

John F. Kennedy, wounded in action in August of 1943, is the only U.S. president to have received the honor.

Various rulings in recent years have ruled out frostbite, heat stroke, and PTSD as eligible injuries.

In 1996 the regulations were amended to allow prisoners of war to receive the Purple Heart.

August 1, 1899 – Elihu Root Appointed the 41st U.S. Secretary of War

Elihu Root, born in 1845, was an American lawyer and statesman who served as Secretary of War for both William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, first appointed to that position on this day in history.

Root was the son of a professor of mathematics at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Attending Hamilton himself, Root graduated first in his class in 1864 at the age of nineteen. He taught school for one year, graduated from the Law School of New York University in 1867, and founded a law firm after one year of practice. By the time he was thirty Root had established himself as a prominent lawyer specializing in corporate affairs.

In 1899, President McKinley invited him to become his Secretary of War, saying that he needed a lawyer in the post, not a military man. Root served in this capacity from 1899 to 1904. The much-later appointed Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson said of Root “no such intelligent, constructive, and vital force” had occupied that post in American history.

Elihu Root in 1902

Elihu Root in 1902

As the biography on the Nobel Prize website (Root won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912) reports:

Root reorganized the administrative system of the War Department, established new procedures for promotion, founded the War College, enlarged West Point, opened schools for special branches of the service, created a general staff, strengthened control over the National Guard, restored discipline within the department. He was most concerned, however, about the three dependencies acquired as a result of the war. He devised a plan for returning Cuba to the Cubans; wrote a democratic charter for the governance of the Philippines, designing it to insure free government, to protect local customs, and to bring eventual self-determination; and eliminated tariffs on Puerto Rican goods imported into the United States.”

Root returned to his private legal practice in 1904, but answered President Theodore Roosevelt’s call to serve as his Secretary of State in 1905. Again, Root compiled an impressive record.

From 1909 to 1915, Root served as a United States Senator from New York, but he declined a candidacy for reelection thereafter. He did remain active as a statesman, however, accepting President Woodrow Wilson’s appointment as ambassador on a special diplomatic mission to Russia in 1917.

Théobald Chartran’s portrait of Elihu Root was painted in 1903, as Root served as what was then secretary of war under President Theodore Roosevelt.

Théobald Chartran’s portrait of Elihu Root was painted in 1903, as Root served as what was then secretary of war under President Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1922, when Root was 77, President Warren G. Harding appointed him as a delegate of an American team to the Washington Naval Conference (International Conference on the Limitation of Armaments).

Root also worked with Andrew Carnegie on programs for international peace and the advancement of science, becoming the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was also among the founders of the American Law Institute in 1923, and helped create the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands. In addition, he served as vice president of the American Peace Society, which publishes World Affairs, the oldest U.S. journal on international relations.

In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, Root was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown (from Belgium) and the Grand Commander of the Order of George I (from Greece).

Root died in 1937 in New York City, with his family by his side.

Review of “The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage” by Selina Alko


As the Author explains in an Afterword to this book, she is white and her husband, fellow illustrator Sean Qualls, is African-American. They fell in love and were married in 2003. Alko writes:

“I must admit, it’s difficult to imagine that just decades ago couples just like us not only faced discrimination, but were told by their governments that their love was unlawful.”

But it was only in 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared that anti-mixed marriage statutes were unconstitutional, in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the Court, declared that statutes preventing marriage solely on the basis of racial classification violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

At the time of this decision, Virginia was one of sixteen states prohibiting and punishing marriages on the basis of racial classification. According to one Virginia statute, a “white person” was absolutely prohibited from marrying anyone other than another “white person.” The license-issuing official had to be satisfied that applicants’ statements as to their race were correct, and certificates of “racial composition” had to be kept by both state and local registrars.


This book tells the story of two Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter, part African-American and part Cherokee, and Richard Loving, a fair-skinned white boy. The two fell in love, but had to travel to Washington, D.C. to get married legally, which they did in 1958. Shortly thereafter, they returned to Virginia and took up residence.


They’d been married just a few weeks when, in the middle of the night in July, 1958, the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip that the Lovings were in violation of the law, stormed into the couple’s bedroom. They informed the Lovings that their marriage license was no good in Virginia, and hauled Richard and the pregnant Mildred off to jail.

The couple eventually pleaded guilty to violating the Virginia law, which recognized citizens as “pure white” only if they could claim white lineage all the way back to 1684. The presiding judge ruled:

“Almighty God created the races white, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.” And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The Lovings were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave Virginia. They moved to D.C., but missed their friends and family and the Virginia countryside. In 1964, frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred the matter to the American Civil Liberties Union.


The ACLU filed a motion on the Lovings’ behalf to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings also filed a class action in federal court to have the Virginia statutory scheme declared unconstitutional. This began a series of procedures and appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Mildred and Richard Loving went on to have three children: Donald, Peggy and Sidney Loving. In the book, the authors aver that the Loving family, back in Virginia, lived “happily (and legally!) ever after.” But the truth is more tragic. Richard Loving died at age 41 in 1975, when a drunken driver struck their car. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident.

Mildred Loving died of pneumonia in 2008, in Milford, Virginia, at age 68. Her daughter Peggy Fortune said “I want [people] to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believ[ing] in love.”

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

This book is a testament to that love, and also to the love between the Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. For the art work, they collaborated, using paint and collage in bold and beautiful colors. This is their first book together, but you can see in this book the influence of their previous (separate) books about mixed race relationships, such as Who Will I Be, Lord? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Sean Qualls, Illustrator, and I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother by Selina Alko (both author and illustrator).

Evaluation: This story is told truthfully, but with the focus on the positive aspects of love, family, and the conviction that “Brand-new ideas, like equal rights for people of all colors, were replacing old, fearful ways of thinking.” One can only hope that faith continues to be justified.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2015

July 25, 1866 – Ulysses S. Grant Becomes the First Four-Star General in U.S. History

Military commanders have always been popular and deemed a threat to political leaders, so such honors as bestowing four stars upon a general were not conferred lightly.

In fact, the U.S. Congress refused to authorize a rank higher than major general until 1798. That year, fears that France might invade the United States induced Congress to name George Washington General of the Armies. When Washington died in December 1799, the rank died with him.

George Washington

George Washington

After Washington’s death, an Act of May 14, 1800, specifically authorized President Adams to suspend any further appointment to the office of General of the Armies of the United States.

The idea of resurrecting the rank of lieutenant general was introduced to Congress on December 7, 1863, by Representative Elihu B. Washburne, who represented Grant’s home district in Illinois. Grant took pains to assure Lincoln that Grant had no political ambitions, and thus Lincoln lent his support to the bill. After it passed with comfortable majorities in both the House and the Senate, Lincoln signed it into law on February 29 and submitted Grant’s name to Congress as his choice to fill the post.

President Abraham Lincoln called his cabinet to the Executive Mansion on March 9, 1864, to witness his presentation of Ulysses S. Grant with his commission as a lieutenant general. Only George Washington had risen to that rank in the U.S. Army before him.

On this day in history, Congress enacted legislation authorizing the grade of General of the Army, and on that same date the new grade was conferred on Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The grade was recognized and continued in various acts until the Act of July 15, 1870, which contained the requirement that “the offices of general and lieutenant general shall continue until a vacancy shall exist in the same, and no longer, and when such vacancy shall occur in either of said offices shall become inoperative, and shall, by virtue of this act, from thence forward be held to be repealed.”

General U.S. Grant

General U.S. Grant

William T. Sherman, Grant’s successor as Commanding General of the Army, was appointed as General of the Army on March 4, 1869, and upon his retirement in February 1884 was placed on the retired list as General of the Army.

Sherman’s successor was Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan, who could not be promoted to General of the Army because of the 1870 law. Congress, however, enacted legislation on June 1, 1888, shortly before Sheridan’s death, that discontinued the grade of lieutenant general and merged it with that of General of the Army. The grade of General of the Army was conferred on Sheridan and was discontinued when he died, while still on active duty on August 5, 1888.

Congress revived the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by Public Law 45, approved September 3, 1919, to honor General John J. Pershing for his wartime service. He retired with that rank on September 13, 1924, and held it until his death on July 15, 1948.

General John J. Pershing

No other officer held this specific title until 1976, when President Ford appointed George Washington posthumously as General of the Armies of the United States and specified that he would rank first among all officers of the Army, past and present.

July 21, 1899 – Birthdate of Nathan Ross Margold

Nathan Margold, who drew up the blueprint for NAACP’s strategy in Brown v. Board of Education, was born on this day in history in Romania. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1901, and he was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended law school at Harvard, where he served on the law review along with Charles Hamilton Houston, the first black member of the Harvard Law Review and later the influential dean of Howard Law School. After graduation, Margold served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In 1927, Felix Frankfurter recruited Margold to teach criminal law at Harvard, and he taught there for a year before the law school decided that two Jewish reformers on the faculty were at least one too many; Margold returned to practice in New York.

In 1930, both Frankfurter and Charles Houston recruited Margold to serve as Special Counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Margold was hired to coordinate the NAACP’s strategic litigation plan “to give the Southern Negro his constitutional rights, [and] his political and civil equality.”

To that end, Margold wrote a 218-page report outlining a legal strategy for desegregating public schools in the South.

The Margold Report, The New York Public Library

The Margold Report, The New York Public Library

As Eva Paterson reports of Margold:

He proposed a twofold litigation strategy: (1) “boldly challenge the constitutional validity of segregation if and when accompanied irremediably by discrimination” due to the lack of a state statute obligating school officials to comply with Plessy v. Ferguson; and (2) rely on Yick Wo v. Hopkins to challenge facially neutral state segregation laws that denied equal protection because of unequal application by school officials. Hence, Margold’s plan was thoroughly laced with court-based rights advocacy and became the bedrock of the NAACP legal strategy toward Brown.” (Eva Paterson et al., Equal Justice—Same Vision in a New Day, Yale L.J. (The Pocket Part), Nov. 2005.)

Margold left the NAACP in 1933 to join other former students of Felix Frankfurter in the new Franklin Roosevelt administration, serving as solicitor for the Department of Interior until 1942. FDR appointed him as a judge for the Municipal Court for the District of Columbia, and in 1945 he moved to the District Court, where he served until his death in 1947.

Meanwhile, after Margold left the NAACP, Houston took over as Special Counsel, and continued to direct efforts to end segregation, recruiting his top student at Howard, Thurgood Marshall, to assist him.

Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP

Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP

July 17, 1947 – The U.S. District Court in South Carolina Opened the All-White Primary to Blacks

Julius Waties Waring was a native of Charleston, South Carolina born in 1880, whose father and uncles had been slaveowners and Confederate war veterans. But somehow along the way, Waring got radicalized, and, as Wil Haygood wrote in Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, “He began expressing different views from what Charlestonians expected of him.” He even went so far as to allow blacks to sit wherever they wanted in his courtroom. He ruled against whites in court who committed crimes against blacks. He married a northerner, which in itself would have subjected him to censure. But most unforgivably, Judge Waring opened the all-white Democratic Primary in South Carolina to blacks with his ruling in Elmore v. Rice, 72 F. Supp. 516 (E.D.S.C. 1947).

Judge J. Waties Waring

Judge J. Waties Waring

The plaintiff, George Elmore, was a black man who brought suit because he was not permitted to vote in the Democratic Party’s primary election. It was the contention of the defendants that the, “the State having thus completely renounced control of political parties and primaries held thereunder, these party primaries are private matters, subject to the determinations and whims of its members, and that they may include or exclude members as they desire, according to racial or any other tests.”

But Waring reasoned (citing statistical evidence) that in Georgia, the Democratic Party is “the dominant and controlling political party.” Voting in the primary was for all intensive purposes equivalent to voting in a “general election.” So can the Democratic Party, he asked, actually be treated as a private organization?

Waring concluded:

I am of the opinion that the present Democratic Party in South Carolina is acting for and on behalf of the people of South Carolina; and that the Primary held by it is the only practical place where one can express a choice in selecting federal and other officials. Racial distinctions cannot exist in the machinery that selects the officers and lawmakers of the United States; and all citizens of this State and Country are entitled to cast a free and untrammeled ballot in our elections, and if the only material and realistic elections are clothed with the name “primary”, they are equally entitled to vote there.

It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union. It is time to fall in step with the other states and to adopt the American way of conducting elections.”

In time, his apostasy became dangerous for him. A Ku Klux Klan cross was burned on his front lawn. He received threatening phone calls. Congressman Mendel Rivers of South Carolina was among those calling for Waring’s impeachment, predicting, “Unless he is removed, there will be bloodshed.”

Judge Waties Waring and his wife, Elizabeth, became close friends with Charleston NAACP leader Arthur J. Clement and his wife.

Judge Waties Waring and his wife, Elizabeth, became close friends with Charleston NAACP leader Arthur J. Clement and his wife.

Judge Waring retired in 1952 and he and his wife moved to New York, where they were more welcome.

July 6, 1535 – Sir Thomas More Beheaded for Treason Against King Henry VIII

On this day in history, the former Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, was beheaded after having been convicted of treason against the king.

More was a lawyer, social philosopher, author (he wrote the book Utopia), statesman, and a vigorous persecutor of followers of the Protestant Reformation. He served as councillor to King Henry VIII from 1529 to 1532.

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More

More was not only vehemently opposed to the Protestant Reformation, but also to the King’s separation from the Catholic Church. Henry was reportedly a devout Catholic, but was intent on having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Henry had become enamored of Anne Boleyn, and Anne refused to be just a mistress. The Pope wasn’t buying the argument for annulment, and wouldn’t recognize divorce, but Henry was undeterred, and ended up getting excommunicated from the Church of Rome.

More attempted to resign after being forced to take an oath recognizing the King as the Supreme Head of the English Church. He tried to limit the oath “as far as the law of Christ allows.” At first, Henry did not accept his resignation, but More was rapidly losing supporters in court. By 1531, Henry had purged most clergy who supported the Roman Pope from senior positions in the church. In 1532 More again asked the King again to allow him to resign, claiming that he was ill. This time Henry granted his request.

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII

The Act of Supremacy in 1534 declared that the King was “the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England” and the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging the King as such.

More insisted on papal supremacy, refused to take the oath, and publicly refused to uphold Henry’s annulment from Catherine. Henry had More imprisoned in the Tower of London.

On 1 July 1535, More was tried for high treason before a panel of judges that included the new Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley, as well as Anne Boleyn’s father, brother, and uncle. The jury took only fifteen minutes to find More guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered (the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility), but the King commuted this to execution by decapitation.

His last words before execution are said to have been “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”