The public should see all sides of Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s memorial has proved the Pandora’s box of architectural endeavors. Jewish groups, animal rights activists, anti-smoking lobbies and feminists are upset. Additional protesters for the monument’s May 2 unveiling should take a number. Rising above this politically correct cacophony, however, one poignant plea begs to be answered. Disabled activists, 16 of FDR’s grandchildren, former Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush, President Clinton and we all agree. Depict our 32nd president — indisputably one of this century’s greatest — as he lived and triumphed: in a wheelchair.
Thrashing in ideological limbo since being commissioned in 1946, FDR’s controversial $48 million memorial will wind more than seven acres along the Potomac. Partitioned by rough rose granite into four open-air rooms, the monument visually narrates the president’s four terms and our nation’s concurrent 12-year metamorphosis. Interspersed among these rooms are six waterfalls, 21 granite carved quotes and several statues. However, not one of them shows FDR — unable to walk since he was 34 — in a wheelchair.
Few know what great pains FDR endured to conceal his disability. He continually refused to be photographed in his chair. Standing for public appearances, Roosevelt often clutched his sons’ arms so tightly he left throbbing bruises.
No one knows the true reasons for this painstaking deception. Roosevelt was a humble and deeply personal man. But surely, he sensed society’s paranoia about polio, his era’s most odious disease. And in this unsympathetic climate, such a handicap could cripple political aspirations. Beside, FDR couldn’t risk losing this volatile nation’s trust as he scrambled to escape the economic quicksand of the Great Depression.
By 1945, the last year of his life, FDR displayed a newfound comfort with his disability. Considering modern society’s sympathetic climate, it is difficult to believe FDR’s furtive attempts would continue if he was alive today. After all, this was the man who assured America “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Yet monument designer, Lawrence Halprin, defends his decision to underplay FDR’s paralysis. “I never saw him in a wheelchair, nor did anybody else,” Halprin told National Public Radio. “This isn’t a memorial to disabledness.”
Certainly, FDR’s tremendous legacy encompasses far more than his handicap. But Halprin should not minimize the epic impression Roosevelt’s disease made on him — as well as the generations that followed. Many historians argue the disease’s onset catalyzed the enormous empathy and maturity that enabled the president to deftly manage a country in crisis.
And for decades, millions have been inspired by FDR’s triumph over his disability. For them, polio did not make him a cripple but a champion.
In his attempt to depict a multi-faceted man, Halprin has ignored a vital aspect. Roosevelt once told our nation that “this generation has a rendezvous with destiny.” Into the 21st century, our generation’s destiny looks to be a battle against prejudice.
For us, then, there is no better model than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose fireside chats warmed a cold nation — a proud, ferocious warrior against depression, against injustice, against inhumanity. And against paralysis.

This piece was originally published as the Staff Editorial in the April 30th issue of The Daily Texan at University of Texas-Austin.