Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest president of the last century. He led the country through the Great Depression and World War II and elected president four times.
His beautiful memorial along the Tidal Basin in Washington reflects the epic nature of his presidency. But this is not the memorial FDR wanted.
This is. In 1941 Roosevelt was talking with his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, when the discussion turned to how FDR would like to be remember in Washington. Frankfurter recalls that Roosevelt wanted a very simple memorial, something in stone about the size of his desk. And he wanted it in the park in front of the Archives building.
So, in 1965, on the twentieth anniversary of his death, his wish was fulfilled in the dedication of this simple block of marble. It was quarried from the same source as the marker at FDR’s grave at his estate in Hyde Park, NY. The memorial was paid for by private donations that were not made public (although their names are sealed into the base of the stone).
So why two FDR memorials? It takes time for us to determine if and how we want to remember people and events. The original FDR memorial, like the one to LBJ presented in a previous episode, was largely the work of friends. But that did not answer the question of how the nation wanted to remember FDR.
It took 52 years for the nation to make that decision. Some of the delay was because FDR was strongly disliked by many. Born into wealth and privilege, he was called by some a traitor to his class for his policies that redistributed wealth. But his redefining of the relationship between government and the people – things like social security, the 40-hour work week, the right to unionize, the regulation of Wall Street, and finally victory in World War II were so broad it called for a memorial greater than this simple block of marble.