In addition to an extensive list of memoirs, biographies, and research texts on medical history that I have read for background research on Sugar Communion, I have also spent a lot of time walking the dog and listening to podcasts. Here’s a photo of Wile E. and me, just because:
My heroine, Dr. Elizabeth “Liddy” Shepherd, M.D., is one of many young women who became physicians or surgeons at the turn of the twentieth century. In romance novels, the introduction of a female doctor character is often presented as something truly exceptional: “the only female physician in England,” one says! While it is true that the best female physicians of the United Kingdom were in Scotland, not England, this kind of blurb is bad history. (Is it good marketing? I don’t know.)
It was not an easy career to choose for a woman, to be sure, but doors were not as closed to them as people today tend to think. Modern medicine and medical education was born at the turn of the twentieth century, meaning that doctors went from being considered “butchers” and “charlatans” (though, let’s face it, they were bleeders) to people who could actually diagnose what was wrong with you and, eventually, help you. (Though before antibiotics, odds on recovery were still not great, unfortunately.) It is this improvement in status of doctors that led conservative elements of American society to decide that medicine was not an appropriate career for women, often because a woman doctor would be “taking the good job of a man.” The publication of the Flexner Report in 1910 is credited with creating the modern scientific medical school system in the US, but it also directly or indirectly caused the closure of many medical schools for women (and African Americans). Those that had been coeducational reduced their admission of women, partly because they had a rise in male applicants. One study calls an unintended consequence of Flexner’s report the “the near elimination of women in the physician workforce between 1910 and 1970.”
(Side note: Johns Hopkins, the model of a modern medical school for Mr. Flexner, only managed to operate because of the patronage of four women: Martha Carey Thomas, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, Elizabeth King, and Mary Gwinn. According to Johns Hopkins: “They would raise the $500,000 needed to open the school and pay for a medical school building, but only if the school would open its doors to qualified women. Reluctantly, the men agreed.” Unfortunately, the legendary founder of internal medicine at Hopkins, Dr. William Osler, was less enthusiastic about the role of women in the field, and the numbers of female students would dwindle before growing again decades later.)
Women in medicine is really the subject for another post, which I plan to do. But importantly I write historical fiction and romance, so my character Liddy needs to be a good doctor appropriate to her time period. I had to understand the world of medicine she was a part of. Better than studying it, I had to immerse myself in it. For that task, I did use some good books, but mostly I listened to podcasts. Let’s talk about a few of those:
My favorite serious medical history podcast was Bedside Rounds, hosted by Adam Rodman, M.D. Every one of these episodes are very engaging and informative. How accurate are they? Well, members of the American College of Physicians can earn Continuing Medical Education (CME) and Maintenance of Certification (MOC) credit for just listening to these episodes and taking a quick quiz! But, trust me, we general listeners need not worry about the test. You’re definitely not going to get bored, either. Dr. Rodman’s intention was to model his podcast on Radio Lab, and he succeeded. His delivery of information is that compelling and digestible (health-related pun?). There were times when I did backtrack 15 seconds or so just to let some point wash over me a second time, but keep in mind that I was taking mental notes for my book. A casual listener can easily stay on pace. Dr. Rodman explains all his medical terms for us laymen, but at the same time he doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. His presentations are well-scripted and do have lighter moments but never get silly. The Radio Lab comparison is dead on. I have listened to all 57 episodes (well, okay, 56 really because he revised and re-released one, and I only bothered with the newer version), and I will say that the whole series is fascinating. This library of information changes the way you view medicine. Frankly, it makes you realize how young the field really is. (Note: The COVID-related episodes, including an in-depth treatment of previous coronaviruses and the 1918 flu, are very good.)
This podcast will kill you
This Podcast Will Kill You is a close runner-up. Two immediate advantages of this podcast are (1) the female presenter duo, Erin Welsh, Ph.D. (ecology) and Erin Allmann Updyk, Ph.D. (epidemiology), and (2) their structure of dividing each episode into biology, history, and modern issues. They also have a Quarantini (or non-alcoholic Placeborita) drink recipe for each episode—and this was before we were all quarantining. “The Erins” (their label not mine) deal with some diseases that other podcasts do not cover, for example rinderpest, which will have to be another glossary post on this blog because it comes up a few times in my books. (It’s the bovine form of measles, to be overly reductive.) I think the only thing that gave Bedside Rounds the edge for me—and this is a personal preference—is that I don’t like much conversation in my podcasts. Or, at least, I think natural-sounding conversation is hard to pull off. It tends to sound really stilted to me, and I think some of the pauses the Erins put in for effect make me a little uncomfortable. This is definitely an its-not-you-its-me issue, and honestly I am probably being too sensitive. (Note: I have not gotten to the COVID episodes yet, but the Erins have several, all broken down by different facets of the pandemic.)
the history of medicine
I have only listened to the first half of the first season of The History of Medicine podcast, but what I like about it is the deep dive into a narrative history of one big medical invention at a time. The first season is all about antibiotics, and there is no show that develops the history of penicillin‘s discovery better, in my opinion. Also the show on plague (Yersinia pestis) is excellent background for all history teachers. A final advantage is that each episode here is very short. A disadvantage is that host and producer Kirby Gong is not a practicing physician. He only (ha!) has a master’s degree in biomedical engineering—though I might call his viewpoint an advantage because he investigates medical inventions in a more procedural way. This is the lens of an engineer, and I find that very interesting.
this won’t hurt a bit
This Won’t Hurt a Bit is my new obsession, but I am bound to be disappointed soon because I am running out of episodes. The two ER physicians who are the main hosts here, Dr. Mel Herbert and Dr. Jess Mason, are so busy with saving lives and producing other educational modules for ER docs that they are not actively creating many new releases. (Note: They do have a few COVID episodes that I have not gotten to yet.) Every episode they have made is terrific. Though they are not exclusively focused on history, each podcast touches upon the historical approach to a disease or treatment in some way. They also teach you a lot about being a good patient, including when you might want to go to a hospital yourself! Dave Mason, Jess’s non-MD husband, is also one of the hosts, and he provides banter and asks the questions you really wanted to know. What I appreciate about Dave, though, is that he is not entirely silly, and he does not derail Mel and Jess when they are delivering information. This podcast is very well produced and engineered, with additional asides and definitions that you appreciate not dread. I am going to be really sorry when I run out of these.
Sawbones is probably the most popular podcast of all the above, at least by the size of the live audiences that they have performed in front of (pre-quarantine days). This podcast is billed as a “A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine,” and that is because the show is based around the relationship of the medical host, Dr. Sydnee McElroy, and the comic relief, her husband Justin McElroy. I get why this formula works, and most people really love their rapport. Unfortunately, I get frustrated when Justin interrupts Sydnee for a sophomoric joke. Again, this may be my issue not yours. Most of the background medical history research is done by Sydnee—maybe I’m underestimating Justin?—and she always brings her A-game. She’s also living and practicing in Huntington, W.V., which is where my grandparents and aunt lived (and therefore I spent a lot of time growing up), and I feel connected to the McElroys that way too. They have several COVID episodes that I have not listened to yet, and they have also done an important set of podcasts on the history of medical racism inspired by recent protests.
stuff you missed in history class
For a history podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class touches on medical topics a lot. There is even a good episode on the Flexner report, mentioned above. I think this is because the hosts, Holly Frey and Tracy Wilson, show a real concern for the daily lives of past people. One of their other stand-out episodes for me was on the “Orphan Trains,” which is a footnote of history you will also see in Sugar Communion. There is a deep backlog here that I plan to dive into once I’m finished with some of my medical questions.
There are more podcasts that I have not yet gotten around to, like the Curious Clinicians, the History Chicks, the Revisionist History podcast, Blowback, and This Land. (Some of these titles are related to other interests, obviously.) There are other podcasts in my favorites that I listen only to a few episodes of, like Casenotes. (Nope, not the true crime podcast, but the medical history one. It is a fortnightly podcast from the Physicians’ Gallery at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Essentially it is just the audio of lectures given by doctors and epidemiologists for other highly-degreed people. It can be very good, depending on the speaker, but it is like listening to a conference, not a highly-produced podcast.) You may have also noticed Book Thingo on my Stitcher account because it’s the best romance podcast out there, and I’m not just saying that because they were willing to talk to me. Kat Mayo is also the originator of the #UndressAndres hashtag, so I owe her a lot.
If you know of more stuff I should be listening to—especially anything relevant to Sugar Communion—please let me know. My dog always needs walking.
Despite President Roosevelt’s declaration that the Philippine-American War was over in 1902, there was actually still a lot of fighting to do. Combat was largely turned over to two new Philippine services: the Constabulary (police) and the Scouts (army), both of which were organized and administered by the American colonial government. Noncommissioned officers and junior officers in the US Army were tapped to become officers of these services as they started out. One of these men would become a beloved figure in Manila: Philippine Constabulary Band leader, Lt. Col. Walter Loving.
As a colonial army, leadership positions in the Constabulary were not equitably distributed. For starters, officer positions were not granted to Filipinos at all. (Talusan 2004, 501) Secondly, discriminatory practices still benefited white officers over African Americans, despite the latter being preferred by Filipinos. A Filipino physician told Sergeant Major John W. Calloway, a Black soldier who was working part-time as a reporter from the Richmond Planet: “Between you and him we look upon you as the angel and him the devil. (“Voices from the Philippines” 1899, 1)
White leaders justified their continued segregation and discrimination with the supposed poor performance of African American soldiers—but this claim simply wasn’t true. In fact, it had already been proven untrue in the Spanish-American War when the Ninth and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantries saved Roosevelt’s own hide.
As an example of continuing discrimination, Edward L. Baker Jr. has to be one of the most overqualified second lieutenant in American military history. He had earned a Congressional Medal of Honor—the highest award for valor in action that can be awarded to anyone in the United States Armed Forces—while a sergeant with the 10th Cavalry in the Spanish-American War. (National Park Service 2015) He then served as a first lieutenant, then captain, of African American volunteer regiments in the Philippines. When those regiments were disbanded in 1902, Baker joined the Philippine Scouts in 1902, but he was forced to accept a significant demotion. (Cunningham 2007, 13) A second lieutenant is the entry level of an officer, right out of officer training, and that’s two grades lower than the captaincy that experienced veteran and Medal-of-Honor-winner Baker previously had.
Second lieutenant was still an officer position, though, and this kind of promotion is what drove a veteran named Walter Loving to make his career in the Philippines. Loving was not a line officer but a cornet player. The cornet is a horn similar to trumpet but shorter and with a mellower tone. “Military bands were an important part of every regiment, and the Army’s Black bands enjoyed especially good reputations, perhaps because they were able to attract talented musicians with fewer opportunities for steady civilian employment.” (Cunningham 2007, 6) Loving was one of those talented musicians. The Black chaplain of the 24th Infantry unit, Loving’s first regiment, wrote him a glowing recommendation as a “fine musician” and said that one day Loving “would be successful as a chief musician of a regimental band.” (Cunningham 2007, 7) At this point, all the chief musicians in the permanently constituted regular army were white, and part of the reason for this may be pay: they earned more than other soldiers of their rank, and they had quartermaster privileges. Worse, these white officers were sometimes ex-Confederates (Gleijeses 1996, 193). Loving would later remark on this practice:
Even in Civil War days colored units carried colored non commissioned officers . . . that most of these white non commissioned officers view themselves in the light of the overseer of antebellum days is shown by their practice of carrying revolvers when they take details of men out to work. (Quoted from African American Registry)
When Loving could not secure the post of band leader, he decided to re-enlist in the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, which served in Cuba. The white colonel of the unit said: “My colored officers and men have quietly submitted to slights and insults which would not patiently be borne by white troops, and I hope they will continue to do so in future. But each prejudice is a source of constant danger to regiments constituted as mine is and stationed in the South.” (Cunningham 2007, 8) When the entire regiment was mustered out, for example, they were “roughed up” by the police as they passed through Nashville on the train. (Cunningham 2007, 8) It was with the 8th USVI that Loving was finally promoted to second lieutenant to become the chief musician of the band—but since the volunteer unit was a temporary one, his commission was temporary too. (Think of volunteer units as having an expiration date. Most enlistments in them were a year, and the units were disbanded once they were no longer needed. This is what had happened to Baker too.)
Loving returned to school at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where his professor wrote that “his progress had been ‘very remarkable’ and that the mark he had attained as a cornet soloist had ‘never been surpassed since this Institution . . . organized its special course for the cornet.’” (Cunningham 2007, 9) Loving did not stay to complete his degree, though, because war in the Philippines lured him back into the service.
While serving as the chief musician for the 48th US Volunteer Infantry, another temporarily-constituted unit, his commanding officer said to him: “The high state of efficiency to which you have brought the band when hardly two men knew how to make a note when they first reported seems almost beyond belief, and the development of the regimental chorus of four hundred voices all bear witness to your ability.” (Cunningham 2007, 10) (This perspective is flattering to Loving but not to the Filipino musicians, who had a long tradition of excellent music. More on that in a bit.)
But then the 48th USVI was mustered out too. What would Loving do now? He sought the assistance of Vice President Theodore Roosevelt—a friend of his sister’s employer—to secure a position as a messenger in the U.S. Senate. Roosevelt wrote his regrets, saying that “he already had a ‘colored messenger, . . . and the other messengers are appointed by the individual senators. They would not tolerate any advice from the Vice President about them.” (Cunningham 2007, 10) Next, Loving sought a position with the Philippine Scouts, and he again asked for Roosevelt’s help. “Although Roosevelt had previously assured [Julia’s employer] that he was willing to help Loving, he instructed his secretary to inform the War Department that he did not ‘wish any unusual action taken’ in the case, and the Scout commission never materialized.” (Cunningham 2007, 10)
Finally, things did turn around. Loving was able to return to the Philippines in 1902 as a second lieutenant for the Philippine Constabulary under General Henry T. Allen. “Loving was lucky to serve under Allen because the general had a relatively high opinion of African American (and Filipino) capabilities. As Allen’s biographer has pointed out, his ‘moderate racial views put him in the minority among the senior officers of his day.’” (Cunningham 2007, 11) That is faint praise now, but Allen’s word meant something to Governor Taft, who then tapped Loving to form a Constabulary Band. Actually, this was something Taft had promised to do back when Loving was still with the 48th USVI, but with Allen’s push he finally made good on his word.
Loving would have a lot of talent to work with. According to scholar Mary Talusan:
The men who formed the original Band were some of the most promising musicians of their time. Some of them descended from a long line of small town band musicians or were former members of regimental bands under Spanish rule. Others were already enlisted in infantry bands under U.S. control, and a few were “trumpeters who had served under Aguinaldo” (Richardson 1983, 9). Most men came from or lived in the Manila area, but a few were from the llocos, Visayas, and other places.
The Philippines had long valued music in the home, on village streets, and in military bands. Town bands played at fiestas, marriages, funerals, baptisms, and just for weekend fun. Competitions between local bands would last for days. Instruments were handed down from parent to child, but there was also formal musical education available. (Talusan 2004, 506-7)
Outside of religious institutions, European classical music was taught in boys’ colleges, normal schools for boys, the Ateneo, the University of Santo Tomas, the Beaterio Colleges for girls, and also privately. Filipino elites and intellectuals actively supported the performances of concerts and operas by individuals, visiting organizations, and local art and literary societies with musical components. Ilustrados (educated elite who studied in Europe) brought back and kept in touch with the musical scene in Europe. Orchestras performed for a widely popular native form of opera called sarsuela. (Talusan 2004, 506)
Musicians and audiences embraced the new Constabulary Band, and it would become a regular feature during evenings at the Luneta. Even more importantly, the skilled Filipino musicians embraced Loving’s leadership:
I have heard many stories from [the family of Loving’s protege, Pedro B. Navarro] of the great respect that the bandsmen had for Loving as a leader, musician, and officer. He was described as a very strict, principled, and compassionate man, and the bandsmen were fiercely loyal to him. My great-aunt, Leonora Navarro, related that Loving would often eat dinner with their family. In addition to their profound relationship as musicians, Loving’s command of Spanish certainly fortified their connection. During those times many Filipinos used Spanish as a language of resistance against American hegemony, since many Americans in Manila could not speak it. By using Spanish to communicate the bandsmen and Loving created for themselves a space for camaraderie and resistance. (Talusan 2004, 510)
Loving also learned some Tagalog, the language of Manila and nearby provinces. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1903, (Cunningham 2007, 11) and in the next year he would bring his band to the United States to be one of the most popular attractions at the 1904 World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, in St. Louis. This experience was one of the highlights of Loving’s early career, but it was not without its challenges. The experience of Filipinos and African Americans at the World’s Fair was a pointed illustration of the assimilationist racism of American imperialism at the turn of the century (Kendi 2017):
Loving, as a Negro officer in military uniform, might have been perceived by audience members as having been assimilated and made successful by American tutelage and training. He seemed to confirm the trope of “benevolence” by embodying America’s democratic rather than racist principles. In sharp contrast, African American groups were kept from participating in the fair and their representation was limited to the nostalgic “Old Plantation” exhibit. The few Black fairgoers that did attend were excluded from water fountains and restaurants. . . . In fact, I found no references to Loving’s race in any of the public documents of the Fair, suggesting that, since he could not be contained in the discourse of [racist] evolutionary hierarchy, his racial identity was better left unidentified. (Talusan 2004, 519)
For the Filipinos of the Constabulary Band, the World’s Fair was a forum to showcase their talent on a world stage:
During one evening concert, the band especially impressed its audience when the power went out and the Filipino musicians continued to play the William Tell Overture in the dark, without missing a note. Loving, who quickly tied a white handkerchief to his baton so that it could be seen, had insisted that his men memorize their repertoire. (Cunningham 2007, 12)
As scholar Mary Talusan argues, it may have been possible for both groups to serve their own agendas simultaneously in St. Louis:
Such representations in America’s expositions encouraged American fairgoers to marvel at the civilizing effects of the U.S. on the Philippines, legitimizing the contentious way by which the Philippines was brought under its custody. In this way, the United States government’s exhibition of Filipinos at the St. Louis Fair can be seen as a successful effort to construct an image of the ideal colonized person, one who embodied an identity characterized by passivity, obedience, and perhaps gratitude through the convergence of military and musical performance. By contrast, the Filipino elites who worked with the American colonial government in organizing the Fair and, to a large extent, the musicians themselves viewed the accomplishments of the PC Band in nationalist terms, emphasizing rather than obscuring Filipino musical traditions established at least a century prior to American rule. . . . American colonialists did not always succeed in binding colonial subjects to their proper place—individual agency and acts of resistance were never fully restricted or contained, especially in the arena of human creativity. (Talusan 2004, 500)
The white colonel who oversaw the Constabulary’s trans-Pacific voyage suggested that Loving “richly deserved” a promotion—which happened a month later as Loving was made captain. And it was because of Loving that President Roosevelt told the War Department that the white chief musicians in the regular army should be shifted to white units, clearing the way for African Americans to be promoted in their place. (Cunningham 2007, 13-14)
Most visible of all, when Taft won the US presidential election, he invited the band to play at his 1909 inaugural festivities, which happened to be in the middle of a blizzard. “To pay for the $20,000 cost of their trip, the Constabulary Band played cities all along their routes, from Nagasaki to Washington, even in the White House, and back.” (Cunningham 2007, 15-16) On the way back, John Paul Sousa, the most famous white composer and conductor of martial music, said the Constabulary Band was better than the (white) United States Marine Band (Sousa’s alma mater). (Cunningham 2007, 15)
We should be careful not to praise Sousa in the matter, especially considering his assimilationist racist attitude towards ragtime music. He played some ragtime because it was popular, but he felt he had to “put a clean dress on it.” (Quoted in Talusan 2004, 516) Loving seemed unable or unwilling to incorporate any African American music into his concerts Stateside, possibly because he was given less leeway. “As long as Loving and the bandsmen operated within acceptable parameters without overtly threatening the existing social order, they were allowed inside and commended in the military, the concert hall, and historical record.” (Talusan 2004, 516) He stuck to the unwritten rules.
Loving eventually retired from the Constabulary as a major in 1916, and—after a brief civilian sojourn in California—he returned to US Army service as an undercover officer reporting on Black socialists, one of the most controversial parts of his life. Interestingly, it is in this questionable work he was given his highest promotion in the US Army, to major. He would have argued that this position allowed him to work from within to advocate for changes in military practices—such as not allowing southern white officers to command African American regiments. But he also spied on antiracist activities of Black communities throughout the United States, hurting the very cause he championed. (African American Registry)
In the 1930s, Loving returned to Manila and was promoted to lieutenant colonel by Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon. (Cunningham 2007, 16, 19) In a sad note, Loving would be imprisoned at the University of Santo Tomas during World War II until he was released to live under house arrest either at the Manila Hotel (Davis 2016) or a house in Ermita (Cunningham 19)—a rather unusual move for the Japanese command, supposedly in deference to Loving’s age and declining health. (Cunningham 19)
Loving would die in Manila at the hands of the Japanese during the Battle of Manila in 1945. There are many stories of how he died: one explanation simply says Walter and his wife were separated by a Japanese soldier, and that was the last anyone saw of him (Cunningham 19); another claims that he refused preferential treatment by the Japanese to be beheaded with other Americans; another gives him credit for barricading a stairwell of the Manila Hotel so that fellow Americans could escape, causing him to be bayonetted and killed (Davis 2016); and a final story wrote that after Loving was shot in the back by retreating Japanese, he “half-walked and crawled to the Luneta, an open park where his famous band had many times thrilled the populace” where “the famous soldier and band leader drew his last breath.” (Loeb 1945, 8)
After his death, Loving was posthumously awarded the Philippine Presidential Medal of Merit and the Distinguished Conduct Star, the second-highest military honor in the Philippines. What would have made Loving even happier, though, was seeing his son, Walter Loving, Jr., serve as an artillery captain during the Korean War, after the desegregation of the armed forces following World War II. Loving’s son would retire as a full colonel in 1969. (Cunningham 2007, 19)
This is the story you may have heard: Theodore Roosevelt built the second half of his national political career on his reputation as a hero from the Cuban theater of the Spanish-American War. As a lieutenant colonel with the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, also known as the “Rough Riders,” Roosevelt promoted his own efforts in the fight to liberate Santiago, Cuba. His friend, Colonel Leonard Wood, helped create the legend by reporting to the War Department, “I have the honor to recommend Lieut. Col. Theodore Roosevelt . . . for a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in leading a charge on one of the entrenched hills to the east of the Spanish position in the suburbs of Santiago de Cuba, July First, 1898.” (Yockelson 1998, 3)
This is the part you probably don’t know: Wood was not at the battle, and those who were there would tell a different story: Roosevelt and his Rough Riders owed their victory and probably their reputations to the African American regiments who saved their hides. These were the same troops Roosevelt would later disparage and, in some cases, dishonorably discharge by executive order.
Mr. Charles McKinley Saltzman, a white graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Cuba campaign, praised the 9th and 10th Cavalries, along with the 24th Infantry, for charging San Juan Hill in the most integrated battle of the war. He said that these African American soldiers “did much to save the Rough Riders from being cut to pieces.” (“Compliment to Colored Soldiers,” 1) The 24th Infantry “bore the brunt” of the fighting—and though they were specifically targeted by the Spanish, they stood their ground and performed challenging maneuvers “under the hottest fire of the day.” (“Colored Troops Win Praise from the White Press,” 2)
A reporter from New York said that the 10th Cavalry advanced, “firing as they marched, their aim was splendid. Their coolness was superb and their courage aroused admiration of their comrades.” (New York State Division) First Lieutenant John “Black Jack” Pershing—a hero who would fight in the Philippines and eventually become the American commander in Europe during World War I—also agreed that the 10th Cavalry saved Roosevelt’s forces. Rough Rider Frank Knox himself called the 10th Cavalry “the bravest men he had ever seen.” (New York State Division) A white corporal, who would also admit to his prejudice against Black Americans in general, was quoted saying: “If it had not been for the Negro Cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated.” (“Gov. Tanner’s Speech,” 4)
The Richmond Planet, an African American community newspaper, forecasted that though these soldiers had been “a right useful ‘article’ when white troops are in a tight place,” (“Gov. Tanner’s Speech,” 4) they would not be properly recognized. That is not entirely true. A few were: five members of the 10th Cavalry received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest and most-prestigious personal military decoration, as did a Black naval fireman on the USS Iowa off the coast of Cuba.
Twenty-five other soldiers from African American units were awarded the Certificate of Merit, the second highest award at the time. (New York State Division) But those who did not survive Cuba did not receive their due posthumously. In fact, they were not even brought home to be buried like the fallen Rough Riders and other white officers. Instead, after suffering a 20% casualty rate (New York State Division), the African Americans killed in combat were buried in unmarked graves on the San Juan Heights near where they fell. (“President McKinley and the Negro Soldiers,” 1)
How did Roosevelt get the credit? He had “friends in the newspaper business [who] ensured that his exploits in Cuba were not overlooked by the public” (Yockelson 1998, 1) And it did make a good story: the rising star of the Republican Party had overcome debilitating asthma in his youth to become a college athlete, a successful rancher, and New York City Police Commissioner. Then he resigned his desk job as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to endanger himself in battle. At least those parts of the story are true. The rest is not:
Roosevelt gives the impression that he alone was the first to charge the San Juan Heights to drive away the entrenched Spaniards. This image of Theodore Roosevelt was propagated with the help of Richard Harding Davis. Reporting for the New York Herald, Davis transcribed what Roosevelt told him, then added his own twist to the story. In addition to the newspaper articles, magazines and books picked up his story. Davis depicted a fearless Roosevelt, wearing a blue polka-dotted bandanna, charging up the hill mounted on his horse, Texas. Thus the legend of Theodore Roosevelt was created. (Yockelson 1998, 2)
As he continued to recount his exploits, the tales grew taller and taller. (Yockelson 1998, 2) Eventually, reflecting satisfactorily on his own bravery, Roosevelt wrote: “I am entitled to the Medal of Honor and I want it.” (Yockelson 1998, 1) Four months later, he “painfully told [Senator Henry Cabot] Lodge on December 6 that ‘if I didn’t earn it, then no commissioned officer can ever earn it.’” (Yockelson 1998, 3) When faced with the lack of direct eyewitnesses to prove his valor, Roosevelt claimed that was because he was so far out ahead of his fellow soldiers: “I don’t know who saw me throughout the fight, because I was almost always in the front and could not tell who was close behind me, and was paying no attention to it.” (Yockelson 1998, 4) His entitlement reached a fevered pitch when he wrote Senator Lodge: “I don’t ask this as a favor—I ask it as a right . . . If [the president and the War Department] want fighting [over it], they shall have it.” (Yockelson 1998, 3)
Twenty-six other soldiers did earn the Congressional Medal of Honor in the fight for Santiago, Cuba, including the five Black cavalrymen of the 10th and the one sailor mentioned above, but Roosevelt did not receive the citation in his lifetime. (Yockelson 1998, 4) He did not lose well, especially not to the African American soldiers that the War Department recognized:
In a series of articles published in Scribner’s Magazine [Roosevelt] contended that the physical ability of African-Americans to perform on the battlefield was only useful if guided by the paternal supervision of white officers. He even claimed that African-American soldiers had an inordinate tendency to retreat and engage in “misconduct” when white officers were not present. . . . [This behavior was] “natural in those but one generation from slavery and but a few generations removed from the wildest savagery.” (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 44)
In another article, Roosevelt wrote that Black soldiers were “particularly dependent upon their white officers. Occasionally they produce non-commissioned officers who can take the initiative and accept responsibility precisely like the best class of whites; but this can not be expected normally, nor is it fair to expect it.” (Amron 2012, 414-15) He even claimed that the African American soldiers lagged back in the rear, some fleeing the battlefield, until Roosevelt himself prompted them forward at revolver-point. (Amron 2012, 415; New York State Division) “According to Presley Holliday, a former Sergeant in the 10th Cavalry, Roosevelt actually stopped four soldiers on their way to pick up ammunition from a supply point”—not retreating at all, in fact. The four soldiers were doing their job. (New York State Division)
How did the United States War Department see fit to reject Roosevelt’s lobbying for an award and instead bestow the same upon a handful on the soldiers he disparaged? Could they have been swayed by other press outlets? J. N. Johnson, a prominent African American doctor and attorney, wrote to the Washington Post:
. . . I write to thank the press, including The Post, in the name of the whole race, for favorable mention of the black soldiers who played their part so well, though having no opportunity for official recognition of their conspicuous bravery. . . . The negro soldier was needed; he was on hand and played his part well; and though the government is silent the press sings his praise. (“Negro Soldiers Bravery” 1898)
Unfortunately, according to antiracism expert Ibram X. Kendi in his book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, the recognition of these Black war heroes did little to halt the spread of racist ideas. “While ‘negative’ portrayals of Black people often reinforced racist ideas, ‘positive’ portrayals did not necessarily weaken racist ideas. The ‘positive’ portrayals could be dismissed as extraordinary Negroes, and the ‘negative’ portrayals could be generalized as typical.” (2017, 328) Bravery, patriotism, and valor would not end discrimination. In fact, the crimes of the Jim Crow period—including disenfranchisement, convict leasing, and lynchings—would only accelerate.
How bitter would Roosevelt be? On the one hand, in 1901 he was the first president to invite an African American to join his family for supper at the President’s House. But the straightforward invitation to prominent educator Booker T. Washington set off a firestorm. South Carolina senator said that it would take the lynchings of a thousand Black people “before they will learn their place again.” (Kendi 2017, 290) Roosevelt promised to never repeat his mistake, and to be sure he officially renamed the residence the White House. (Kendi 2017, 290) He would also single-handedly tear apart the careers and eliminate the pensions of 167 Black veterans—the entire 25th Infantry battalion—after blaming them for a riot in Brownsville, Texas, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Six of these men had won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and thirteen had received the Certificate of Merit, the next highest award. 123 of the 167 had served in the US Army for over five years, which means combat in the Philippines, and 26 of them had served for over ten years, which means combat in Cuba too. One career soldier had spent 24 years in the Army. All of them lost their entire retirement investment by executive order, without even the decency of a court-martial. (“Troops Not Spared” 1906, 1)
Eventually Teddy Roosevelt got what he wanted—in 2001, more than eight decades after his death. During the waning days of the Clinton Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense bestowed a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor upon Theodore Roosevelt. His media machine finally won.
[Featured image is a vintage postcard of the 25th Infantry at Basilan in the Sulu Archipelago.]
Amron, Andrew D. “Reinforcing Manliness: Black State Militias, the Spanish-American War, and the Image of the African-American Soldier, 1891-1900.” The Journal of African American History 97, no. 4 (2012): 401-26. https://doi.org/10.5323/jafriamerhist.97.4.0401.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. “Black Americans in the US Military from the American Revolution to the Korean War: The Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurgency.” New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center. Last modified March 30, 2006. Accessed June 29, 2020. https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/articles/blacksMilitary/BlacksMilitaryContents.htm.
Ngozi-Brown, Scot. “African-American Soldiers and Filipinos: Racial Imperialism, Jim Crow and Social Relations.” The Journal of Negro History 82, no. 1 (1997): 42-53. https://doi.org/10.2307/2717495.
Happy Fourth of July, Republic Day, Philippine-American Friendship Day, and 21st Hallock wedding anniversary! (Yes, Mr. H and I married on American Independence Day because we enjoy irony.)
The American administration in the Philippines could be quite cheeky too: they liked using the Fourth of July as a marker date in their administration, despite the fact that seizing the islands turned the US into the very redcoats we declared unfit oppressors via the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1774. (Independence was actually declared on the 2nd of July, but never mind.)
The Insular authorities used July 4, 1902, as a declared “mission accomplished” date, ending (supposedly) what was then called the Philippine Insurrection. Much like George W. Bush’s gaffe over a hundred years later, though, the mission was very far from accomplished. In fact, the Philippine-American War would not be over until 1913.
Cheekier still, when setting up the path to Philippine independence, the American authorities decided to terminate the Commonwealth on July 4, 1946—so that conveniently we and our former colony (but still beholden to the US under the Bell Trade Act of 1946 and Military Bases Agreement of 1947) would have the same independence day.
July 4th was celebrated as such until Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal changed the law in May 1962, recognizing June 12th as the true date of Philippine independence—honoring the day that President Emilio Aguinaldo established the First Philippine Republic in 1898. That was before the Americans even decided to keep the islands as spoils of the Spanish-American War. This makes sense, but it took them sixteen years to do it, which shows you how large the American footprint still was in early Cold War-era Philippines.
4 July 1946 was still relatively important, of course: it marked the birth of the Third Republic. (The Second Republic was under Japanese occupation, in case you were wondering.) Therefore, the Fourth of July was renamed Republic Day. But after President Ferdinand Marcos enacted martial law and then a new constitution in 1972, he decided to rename the day yet again to Philippine-American Friendship Day.
Commemoration post-Marcos has returned to Republic Day, but my friends and I still choose to celebrate Fil-Am Friendship Day (and the Hallock anniversary) with ice-cold San Miguel, guitars, and good food. To our friends and found-family in the Philippines, we miss you all and wish we were there to celebrate with you.
For more photographs and history behind this day, see the Official Gazette feature. The banner photograph at the very top of the post is Manuel Roxas and Douglas MacArthur shaking hands at Roxas’s inauguration, courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive at the University of Michigan. (Whether this was Roxas’s inauguration as the third and last president of the American Commonwealth of the Philippines on May 26, 1946, or his inauguration as the first president of the Third Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, I cannot say for sure—but based on the chairs, I think it is the latter.)
Happy day, everyone! Our marriage is now old enough to drink in the United States, so happy anniversary to Mr. H!
Ben Potter is not your typical hero. I don’t say this because of his checkered past, which he has. No, I mean his unusual talent for a male lead in a historical romance: Ben sews.
Ben is the grandson of a self-made tailor and the son of an industrious seamstress. He grew up working in his family’s shop. He was supposed to inherit it—before the Spanish-American War broke out, that is. (Before Ben, like so many other young men, were persuaded by the sensationalist press to “liberate” the Cuban people from Spanish tyranny. That’s not how it turned out, by the way.)
Ben has opinions about the fit of suits. He sizes a man up by his “well-molded shoulders” and “perfect trouser break.” He is the one who visits the tailor several times to make his suit fit. “Even so, the collar did not feel right,” he thinks to himself, and after that he makes his own work shirts. Fashioning a doll for his niece is no sweat, and a sewing machine makes dresses for the doll even easier and faster.
Could there really be a Singer on a hacienda in Bais? Yes! The Singer Sewing Machine company had actually been selling their products in the Philippines since 1882, predating the American colonial period. According to Pinoy Kollektor, over a quarter-million units were sold by 300 Singer outlets in the Philippines by 1912, adding 1500 jobs to the economy.
The Singer showroom on the Escolta was one of the most photographed landmarks on the street, probably because the Americans who saw it assumed it arrived with Dewey’s navy. (Of course they did.)
Ironically, one of the reasons that Americans desired an empire was to sell their goods in Asia—particularly in China, but in the Philippines too. Did they need military conquest to do so? No. As Private First Class Reginald “Malik” Edwards, a Vietnam vet, said of that subsequent war, “Sometimes I think we would have done a lot better to by getting [the Vietnamese] hooked on our life-style than by trying to do it with guns….Blue jeans works better than bombs.” In this case, Singer sewing machines would have worked better than Colts and Krags. Ben certainly would have preferred them.
Final note: for more beautiful, historic Singer photographs, check out the website of Pinoy Kollektor.