May 1, 1997
Tomorrow a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt will be dedicated on the mall in Washington. Kwame Holman has this background report.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a new presidential monument. Tomorrow a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt will be dedicated on the mall in Washington. Kwame Holman has this background report.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
KWAME HOLMAN: To millions of Americans Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an intimate symbol of strength, hope, and the renewal of a nation. He marshaled massive government programs against the crushing poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression. As President for most of the 1930's he created the Social Security system, as well as an alphabet soup of other programs: the WPA, the CCA, and the NRA, the National Restoration Act. The programs comprised a lifeline to fully a third of the nation then locked in poverty.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The conference is to seal Hitler's fate and establish lasting peace.
KWAME HOLMAN: In his final term in the mid 1940's Roosevelt had engineered the war and prelude to victory against Hitler and Japan. Through America's most trying times of the 20th century Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with almost single-handedly holding his nation together, calming their fears through fireside chats via the medium of the day--radio. There's no dispute about the singular place in history occupied by America's only four-term president. But this modest stone is all Roosevelt, himself, said he wanted as a memorial. It was placed by his friends in front of the National Archives Building in 1965. Roosevelt said in part, "If any memorial is erected to me, I should like it to consist of a block about the size of this desk and placed in front of the Archives Building. I want it plain, without any ornamentation, with the simple carving ‘In Memory of.'" Instead, what will be dedicated tomorrow is a seven and a half acre, $53 million memorial that occupies the last major space around the Washington Mall adjacent to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial.
LAWRENCE HALPRIN, FDR Memorial Designer: It's built the way I wanted it to be built, so I'm very happy about that part of it, very happy about that part of it.
KWAME HOLMAN: The FDR Memorial is the culmination of 20 years of work by world-renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. He says his design is deliberately different from the other three presidential memorials around the Mall.
LAWRENCE HALPRIN: It's a walking experience, and also it's not an object. It's not one single--Mr. Roosevelt was not a one-liner in any way, and no one sculpture or quotation or even object could have expressed what he went through, what we all went through, because I lived through all this period of time, and I finally decided that the way to do this was to take each one of his terms in office and explain what happened during that period of time not only to him but to the country as a whole. And so the first--the first room or the first outdoor room is devoted to the beginning, the Depression, the great horrible things that happened, and his entering with vigor to solve the problem for a country that had gone really bad. And then the second room is dealing with the Depression years and then also what happened to him when he developed the programs, the social programs. And then the war came, and that's the third room, his third term in office, where he said, "I hate war, but we must be the arsenal of democracy." And then finally in his fourth term he died a year after it, after he got into it, and so we show him and the funeral cortege, and the weeping crowds that followed after his cortege.
KWAME HOLMAN: Each of Halprin's rooms has a waterfall.
LAWRENCE HALPRIN: At the beginning he was assistant secretary of the navy. He was disabled with polio, he said, because of water. He had been swimming, and he came back and sat around in the cold and that evening he got polio. It must have latent in him, but he always said, "Water brought me to where I am," and then when he went down to warm springs, to heal himself, he said, "Water got me where I am and is going to help me heal myself."
KWAME HOLMAN: The memorial's design has been praised but it also has been criticized. Two years ago former Bush administration official Michael Deland successfully lobbied the Roosevelt Memorial Commission to block planned construction of a statue depicting Roosevelt standing unaided.
MICHAEL DELAND, National Organization on Disability: And they had the wisdom to recognize that just was a blatant factual distortion; that FDR, after his polio in 1921, could not stand unsupported, in fact, had to be supported on both sides.
KWAME HOLMAN: Since 1995, Deland's National Organization on Disability has tried to convince the memorial commission to install a statue of Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair.
MICHAEL DELAND: He spent the last 24 years of his life and all 12 years of his presidency in a wheelchair. So to hide that, I think is just unconscionable. It would be, in my mind, unconscionable for schoolchildren to go through that memorial 50 years from now or 500 years from now and have no sense that FDR led this nation from his wheelchair.
KWAME HOLMAN: Though paralyzed by polio from the hips down, in 1921, Roosevelt avoided being seen or depicted in a wheelchair. Only a handful of such photos exist. In 1945, upon returning from Yalta and six weeks before his death, Roosevelt made one of his few public mentions of his disability.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: I hope that you will pardon me for an unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say, but I know that you will realize that it makes it a lot easier for me in not having to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs.
KWAME HOLMAN: Anne and Christopher Roosevelt are among 25 living grandchildren of FDR, a majority of whom want a wheelchair depiction added to the memorial.
ANNE ROOSEVELT: Showing FDR in a wheelchair exhibits this constructive, positive approach that he took in face of great--a national disability. It's a symbol for all of us, not just for the disability community, but a symbol for all of us.
CHRISTOPHER ROOSEVELT: The fact that we have a tremendous historical leader during the most challenging times for this country who was enabled in many senses by his disability to become that leader ought to be inspiring for all of us.
KWAME HOLMAN: That point of view got a major boost last week. President Clinton, after entreaties from former Presidents Bush, Ford, and Carter, joined the call for a depiction of Roosevelt in a wheelchair to be added to the memorial.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I believe if he were here, we would say, look at what we have done, look at how we have changed attitudes towards disabilities, look at all the doors we're trying to open for people with disabilities. For God sakes tell everybody I did this when I was disabled so that all those disabled kids can know they can grow up to be President too now. And they don't have to hide it like I did.
KWAME HOLMAN: Designer Halprin says he believes his current design is appropriate.
LAWRENCE HALPRIN: Obviously, we're not disable-antagonistic at all. This was designed for disabled people. We tell the story that he is disabled carved in the granite; this statue in this location is--portrays him in an exact replica of the chair that he normally used when he went and joined the people. And we thought that we were covering it the way he would want us to have covered it.
KWAME HOLMAN: But now Halprin has agreed to examine how and where a wheelchair depiction can be added to the FDR Memorial.
LAWRENCE HALPRIN: What we're going to do is to spend whatever time is needed to discover and look at different options as to how--if they want it to go one step further and communicate a little more readily to people who may not understand it--that he was disabled. And that's fine with me.
KWAME HOLMAN: But any addition to the memorial will take some time. Meanwhile, in ceremonies expected to draw tens of thousands tomorrow morning, the memorial to the 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, will officially take its place of honor.