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Clinton Dedicates Memorial,
Urges Americans to Emulate FDR

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 3, 1997; Page A01

Map showing memorial's location President Clinton walked slowly on crutches, just as Franklin D. Roosevelt had walked 60 years before, to dedicate a memorial to the president who had coaxed the country through its worst depression and led it through a brutal war.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors the 32nd president as one of the great leaders of this country—in the company of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln—and pays tribute to the jaunty inspiration that marked the unique 12-year span of Roosevelt's presidency.

President Clinton at the memorial The Clintons pause at the statue of FDR and his dog Fala.
By Carol Guzy/The Washington Post

Clinton urged the country to reclaim the confidence they found in themselves under FDR. "We need the faith of Franklin Roosevelt in an entirely different time," Clinton said. "My fellow Americans, every time you think of Franklin Roosevelt, put aside your doubts, become more American, become more like him."

Many of Roosevelt's grandchildren joined the president, Vice President Gore and their wives to walk with hundreds of people who had lived through the dark times of Roosevelt's era and who came to the dedication to reflect and reminisce. A spokeswoman for the organizers said 6,000 to 7,000 people attended.

Under dazzlingly bright skies, they walked the meandering path of granite walls, bronze sculptures and waterfalls with which the memorial seeks to tell the story of Roosevelt's presidency from 1933 to 1945.
7-year-old touching Braille Seven-year-old Liam Edward McKenna touches writing in Braille at the memorial.
By Frank Johnston/The Washington Post

Built for $48 million after more than 40 years of design and financing delays, the memorial is the third presidential monument to be dedicated this century, and largely completes the geometry of major monuments on the Mall. The last previous presidential monument, to Jefferson, was dedicated by Roosevelt in 1943.

President Clinton, temporarily handicapped by a knee injury, hobbled through the memorial after his dedication speech, chatting with designer Lawrence Halprin. In his speech, Clinton paid tribute to the president whose polio paralyzed but did not stop him.

Clinton diffused a controversy that had threatened to mar the dedication when he sided with disabled activists who demanded that a statue be added to the memorial showing FDR in a wheelchair. On Clinton's recommendation, the Senate on Thursday night passed and sent to the House legislation to add the statue.

The bill prompted about two dozen people with disabilities to turn a planned demonstration at the event into a "celebration" of their victory.

The FDR Memorial is set picturesquely beside the Tidal Basin midway between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. Officials expect it to draw as many as 2 million visitors a year.

Clinton came to the dedication rostrum as an heir to Roosevelt's ideologies but beset by the kinds of divisions that Roosevelt was largely able to overcome with wit, charm and political skill.

In his dedication speech, Clinton lamented that he is president of a prosperous country that is at peace but has more self-doubts than it had under President Roosevelt. He noted that one in four workers was jobless when FDR took office in 1933; yesterday new figures showed one in 20 was unemployed, the lowest jobless rate in two decades.

"It is a strange irony of our time that here, at the moment of our greatest prosperity and progress in so many years, [at] the pinnacle that Roosevelt hoped America would achieve—and our influence and power has come to pass—we still strangely fight battles with doubts," the president said.

Those are "doubts that he would treat with great impatience and disdain," Clinton said, "doubts that lead some to urge us to pull back from the world at the very first time since Roosevelt's time when we actually can realize his vision of world peace and world prosperity and the dominance of the ideals for which he gave his life."

With his wife, Hillary Clinton, watching, the president also praised Eleanor Roosevelt as a "magnificent partner." She was "his conscience and our nation's conscience."

A statue of Eleanor Roosevelt is among nine sets of bronze sculptures in the memorial. Eleanor Roosevelt is a favorite of the current first lady, who raised eyebrows when she admitted to having imaginary conversations with her predecessor. Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962.

Hillary Clinton poked fun at herself and that revelation when she met with members of the National Breast Cancer Coalition yesterday after the dedication. She noted the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt in the memorial and quipped: "It's more convenient for me. I can just go over there and talk to her."

The dedication speeches were interrupted repeatedly by the noise of jets from National Airport. The flight path is a drawback to the site: More than 500 jets go over the memorial daily, showering noise on what its designer hopes is a place for introspection.

The dignitaries who had their first look at the memorial yesterday reflected on their own experiences.

"It's a very powerful moment in the life of the city," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who as a little boy met FDR at the White House. Kennedy thought there was a connection between the array of social programs Roosevelt launched and his own record in public life.

"There's an enduring appeal of those ideas," he said. "Programs change but values endure—helping working families, parents and children."

Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) said he "grew up with this whole legend." Cleland's father, at 18, first tasted whole milk and owned a suit of clothes thanks to a job as a trucker in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Roosevelt program.

"Look at what he was: inspirational leader and powerful politician," Cleland said. "Look at what he represented: care and compassion. People are hungry for those today."

Clinton's stroll through the memorial delayed the public opening until about noon yesterday. But within hours of its opening, the memorial had taken on the character of a Washington attraction, filled with backpackers and baby carriages, joggers in nylon shorts and tourists in sandals.

Children sat on the three-foot-high sculpture of Fala, Roosevelt's dog. At sculptor George Segal's depiction of the Depression, adults posed for photos, wedging between the sad, bronze figures as if joining the bread line.

Older people in suits and ties mingled with schoolchildren in T-shirts as they read quotations from Roosevelt's speeches engraved in the South Dakota granite, starting with one of his most famous: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

But what is perhaps Roosevelt's most remembered line is missing. In his speech to Congress asking for a declaration of war after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt referred to Dec. 7, 1941, as "a date which will live in infamy."

Yesterday, Halprin acknowledged that it was partly a sensitivity toward former enemies that prompted him not to recommend including that phrase. "We carefully did not deal with the question of Naziism or fascism or any one country," Halprin said.

But World War II was mentioned by several speakers at the dedication. Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, a goddaughter of Franklin Roosevelt, noted that she was born while her family was in wartime exile in Canada. She said Roosevelt was proud of his family's Dutch ancestry.

"In the Netherlands, we express our gratitude by giving flowers. The more thankful we are, the larger the bouquet becomes," she said in presenting to Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore two lush bouquets of a new variety of orange rose to be named after Roosevelt, whose name in Dutch means "field of roses."

The memorial has simmered in controversy over whether it had bowed to "political correctness." Animal rights activists were credited with keeping the trademark fox fur off the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt; anti-smoking activists were credited with having FDR's trademark cigarette holder removed.

But the biggest controversy arose over the decision by the FDR Memorial Commission to stick with 1978 statue designs that were in keeping with FDR's own reluctance to be seen publicly in a wheelchair. Roosevelt went to exhausting lengths not to appear disabled.

About two dozen demonstrators sat in wheelchairs, leaned on walkers, hobbled along with crutches or walked with white canes outside the memorial before the dedication. "We are no longer hiding our disabilities," said one of the group, Becky Ogle, 41, who is a double amputee and director of disabled outreach for the White House. "When I was a child growing up, the message to me was I am sick. Well, I am not sick. We are not victims. Attitude is the last barrier for us."

Clinton's move did not cool the anger over the memorial's design for everyone. Rick Douglas rested in the shade of a tree after the dedication, formulating what he would tell his children about the memorial.

"This is a terrible mistake," said Douglas, a 54-year-old government employee. "This is shameful. This is a huge lie. It's a shameful falsehood for people who are disabled. The message here is the myth and shame and bigotry associated with disability is still held tight by people who designed this memorial."

Douglas, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a motorized cart to get around, was a guest at the ceremony and not one of the demonstrators. He is director of the Disability Initiative at the Department of Labor.

But Douglas said he will be relieved when a statue of Roosevelt in a wheelchair is added. "I won't bring my children here to see the memorial until then," he said.

Staff writers Judy Mann, R.H. Melton and Linda Wheeler contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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