Just weeks before the FDR Memorial is to open near the National Mall, 16 descendants of Franklin Delano Roosevelt said Wednesday the monument should do more to show their grandfather governed from a wheelchair.
Coping with his disability “most likely gave FDR much of the strength, courage and determination that made him the great president and leader he was,” the grandchildren wrote in a statement.
“It would be a disservice to history and the public’s interest if the impact of polio on the man were to be hidden.”
The signatories represent more than half of FDR’s 29 grandchildren, but they stressed that there is no “family position” on the memorial. They said they were worried that the controversy would “seriously detract from and disrupt the memorial’s public dedication ceremonies” on May 2.
Disability groups already have demonstrated at the monument site, and have requested a permit to demonstrate during the dedication, planning to bring busloads of activists to town.
As now planned, none of the monument’s three statues of Roosevelt suggests a wheelchair or the steel braces he wore. But the memorial’s entry building will display a replica of one of FDR’s wheelchairs and a rare photograph of him in a wheelchair. A timeline states that after being stricken with polio in 1921, FDR “never again walked unaided.”
Roosevelt himself went to great lengths to conceal his disability on most occasions, and memorial officials have said that they are simply respecting his wishes. They said there were no plans to alter the monument.
“The commission has and will continue to supply information on the various ways that FDR’s disability is addressed in the memorial,” said Dorann Gunderson, director of the memorial commission.
Among the FDR grandchildren who did not sign the letter was David B. Roosevelt, a member of the memorial commission, who says the monument is sufficiently open about FDR’s disability.
The grandchildren who are calling for changes to the memorial did not specify what should be done, but disability activists have been adamant that it should depict FDR in a wheelchair.