Monday, April 27, 2009

Kahn/FDR Memorial Opposed By Roosevelt Island Disabled Association - Design Ignores Handicapped Community Here, Nation Wide & War Veterans

Image of FDR Walking on Crutches from FDR Library and Museum Via Poughkeepsie Journal

I received the following message from the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association (RIDA) Board of Directors opposing the proposed $45 million Louis Kahn Design for a FDR Memorial at Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park that is being promoted by the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI):
On behalf of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association and it's many disabled members we want to voice our opposition to a glaring deficit in the current proposal for the FDR Memorial to be built at the Southern tip of Roosevelt Island.

President Roosevelt was disabled by Polio before he was elected President of the United States and used a wheelchair almost exclusively. A statue of President Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair or standing with the help of his crutches would be most appropriate here on an Island where many disabled people reside, both in apartments and in the two chronic care hospitals. In the same manner that our first black president, Barack Obama, has inspired so many school- aged black children to aspire to higher achievements, once thought to be impossible, such a memorial would have the same effect on the disabled community when viewing a statue of one of our most beloved presidents and realizing that he, too, was disabled and was able to overcome his disability and be elected to the highest office in the country. What an inspiration that would be for the multitude of disabled visitors, especially our wheelchair bound war veterans returning from Iraq, to visualize that despite their disability anything is possible. The memorial, as shown in the artist's sketches. does not portray FDR as disabled and we feel that this is an injustice to us all. It is said that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In this instance, a statue of FDR depicted as our first disabled President would speak volumes to the millions of visitors, disabled and non-disabled who will be visiting The FDR Memorial for generations to come.

Roosevelt Island Disabled Association Board of Directors and it's members

Image of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association Board of Directors

In an earlier post, I wrote the following about this issue:

There's More!

In addition to destroying the beautiful NYC skyline and waterfront views from Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park, the proposed Kahn/FDR memorial also fails to acknowledge FDR as a man and a President of the United States who achieved greatness despite a disability that forced him into a wheelchair. The absence, in any meaningful way, of FDR's use of a wheelchair or crutches is particularly shameful given the large disabled and handicapped community at Roosevelt Island's Coler-Goldwater Hospital complex.

A similar controversy arose at the FDR Memorial in Washington DC. According to this 1/11/01 LA Times article:
... Advocates for the disabled objected strongly when the memorial opened 3 1/2 years ago with its centerpiece FDR statue only hinting at Roosevelt’s polio affliction. It shows a cape-covered Roosevelt in a straight chair with two tiny wheels....

... Four-year-old Hannah McFadden, an Albanian immigrant born with a leg deformity, didn’t need her mother to explain the significance of Wednesday’s unveiling of a statue depicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

“It means people on crutches and in a wheelchair can do anything,” said Hannah, sporting hot-pink crutches for the ceremony in which President Clinton dedicated the statue...
The National Organization of Disability wrote of the importance in recognizing FDR's use of a wheelchair and incorporating it into the Washington DC memorial.
President Clinton dedicated a new statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. on the morning of January 10, 2001. The statue, the first to depict a world leader using a wheelchair, will be located at the entrance to the seven-acre Memorial site in Potomac Park, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. "This dedication represents a great victory for people with disabilities. FDR's Memorial finally will acknowledge his significant disability experience, which forged his leadership qualities-courage, determination, and compassion-that enabled him to successfully lead the nation through the worst crises of the 20th century," said N.O.D. President Alan Reich. "This magnificent statue will be an inspiration to people worldwide, disabled and non-disabled alike."...

Image of FDR Memorial Wheelchair from Ability Unleashed

A great idea for an appropriate and honorable FDR Memorial on Roosevelt Island was suggested by Roosevelt Island's Doctor Jack Resnick who treats many of our disabled residents.
Somebody designed a memorial to FDR on Roosevelt Island that completely ignored the man’s physical disability. Franklin Roosevelt spent much of his adult life in a wheelchair. The polio virus, which infected him in 1921 at the age of 39, left him with almost no use of his legs. Twelve years later he became President of the United States. He went on to save the country from economic calamity and the world from Hitler....

...Roosevelt Island is a living, breathing memorial to FDR. And when we celebrated FDR Day here each year, it was clear that we were focused on FDR as an icon for the disabled.

The FDR Memorial on this Island should focus on the President’s strength in conquering his disability. Many possibilities come to mind. For instance, he should not be memorialized with a bust. We should see a greater-than-life-sized statue of him sitting in a wheelchair – and he should face north toward Goldwater and Coler Hospitals...
The Chris Reeve home page includes the Congressional House and Senate resolutions in favor of a FDR Wheelchair Statue for the Memorial in Washington DC. Shouldn't such a representation of FDR really be just as appropriate, if not more so, here on Roosevelt Island.

Unfortunately to date, it is more important to the supporters of Roosevelt Island's incorrectly labled FDR memorial to honor the projects architect, Louis Kahn, than it is to honor FDR and the disabled community here on Roosevelt Island and elsewhere.
The inclusion of a statue depicting FDR sitting in a wheelchair at the Washington DC FDR Memorial was a hard fought battle and happened only as an afterthought addition to the original Memorial. As described in this 1996 Time Magazine article:
... The problem was that the crucial and defining fact that Roosevelt conducted his presidency from a wheelchair became a forgotten footnote to the White House proceedings and, indeed, to the whole memorial idea.

... In a Harris poll a while back, 73% of those asked said the memorial should include "visible recognition of F.D.R.'s disabilities." The National Organization on Disability, which claims to represent the interests of 50 million disabled Americans, thinks that to ignore F.D.R.'s disability in the monument is a major cultural blunder. "It would be unconscionable to have schoolchildren visit the memorial five years from now, or 500 years from now, and have no sense of the challenge F.D.R. faced," says Mike Deland, the organization's chairman.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has become the spokeswoman for a loose confederation of scholars who likewise are appalled at the idea of going ahead with the memorial as designed. "Roosevelt's polio made his special relationship with the American people possible," she said last week. "Not to allow that to be shown would be a fundamental distortion of history, a real loss." The Roosevelt heirs, who at first seemed supportive of a historically cleansed memorial, seem to have tipped the other way, with many favoring a change. The National Organization on Disability has agreed to pick up any extra cost if a new sculpture is needed, since the three F.D.R. pieces are already at the foundry....
A Memorial to FDR on Roosevelt Island must include a representation of him that recognizes his disability because it will be an example and inspiration to many on overcoming great personal challenges and as stated above by RIDA:
... What an inspiration that would be for the multitude of disabled visitors, especially our wheelchair bound war veterans returning from Iraq, to visualize that despite their disability anything is possible....
However, unlike the DC Memorial, in the case of the FDR Memorial on Roosevelt Island, depicting President Roosevelt in a wheelchair or on crutches should be the prime focus of the Memorial and not just an afterthought addition.

At one time FERI agreed that FDR should be depicted in a wheelchair, at least in the Washington DC Memorial. FERI previously resolved that:
Resolution of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Board of Directors at its meeting in Warm Springs, GA, on Tuesday, April 11, 1995

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's indomitability, even in the face of his disability, is an important part of his legacy, and the fact of his disability should be shown in a significant way at the Washington memorial to FDR. Recognizing that time may be needed to do this in an effective way, necessary additions or modifications should be pursued as quickly as possible, but the opening of the memorial should not be delayed
It appears that as it applies to the Roosevelt Island FDR Memorial, FERI and it's local political supporters are more interested in honoring the projects designer, Louis Kahn, than they are in honoring FDR or inspiring the disabled community here on Roosevelt Island and across the nation, including our returning war veterans as well as everyone else who shares the universal desire to overcome great challenges and adversity.

There is still time to stop FERI"S proposed design plan and replace it with one that truly honors FDR and inspires the nation. The taxpayer funds from the NYC Council and State of New York may not come through due to the extreme budget crises we are currently suffering through and the RIOC Board of Directors, composed of a majority of Roosevelt Island residents still has final approval over this project and could vote it down.

Below are some images of FERI's proposed FDR Memorial for Roosevelt Island.

Image of Kahn/FDR Memorial from Village Voice Runnin Scared Blog

FDR Memorial Staircase Image from FDR Four Freedoms Park does not appear to be handicapped accessible

Image from NY Times

Other pictures are available here.


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