Franklin Delano Roosevelt served the United States as president for more than three terms, leading the country out of the Great Depression, implementing the New Deal and providing a source of strength and stability for Americans during our involvement in World War II.
Unfortunately, his strength as a president was not equaled by his physical health. He fought a debilitating case of polio that left him unable to walk for the latter part of his life. But not once during his years did he allow his physical weakness to be shown to the public. Out of respect and admiration for the president, the media and the public rarely discussed, photographed or wrote about his disability.
It is unfortunate that the disability FDR worked so hard to keep hidden is now being displayed by a new sculpture portraying him in his wheelchair. The sculpture is located at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington. A sculpture of Roosevelt sitting in his specially designed desk chair already existed at the site: a straight-back chair with swivel wheels that merely hinted at disability.
A specially designed chair is not the only extent FDR went to conceal his disability from the public. He also had a car specially designed with hand controls so people could see him driving.
It?s clear Roosevelt wanted his disability concealed. Why dishonor his wishes?
The idea to have a sculpture of Roosevelt in his wheelchair has been debated for years and has been strongly backed by organizations such as the National Organization on Disability. In fact, disability groups raised $1.65 million for the structure ? essentially paying for the addition. If the groups hadn?t raised this money, the National Park Service might have never agreed to build the sculpture. It?s clear that money talks.
It?s great that Roosevelt?s monument can become a rallying point for the disabled, but that is not the purpose of a monument. A memorial is built to memorialize a person ? not to depict a part of him or herself he or she wanted to hide. Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson have larger-than-life statues and George Washington?s memorial is still the tallest structure in the city.
But how does this country honor FDR? With a small, life-sized statue of him sitting in his wheelchair. Instead of memorializing one of our greatest presidents, we are performing a service for the public.
America?s memories of FDR should not be of him in a wheelchair, they should be of his great service to the country. FDR deserves the same treatment all of the other great presidents have received in their memorials. It?s unfortunate that we have built a statue to serve the public instead of honoring FDR.