By Paul M. Sparrow, Director
June 30th, 1941 dawned a magnificent summer day in Hyde Park. A ferocious thunderstorm the day before had broken a torrid heat wave and left the air clear and fresh. The roses were in full bloom and FDR’s beloved birds sang in the treetops. A large crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the new museum, as family and friends mixed with reporters and the general public.
President Roosevelt, wearing a bright white suit, was helped to his feet and grasped the podium. Sitting next to him was his wife Eleanor, and members of his family. The Library Trustees stood behind him as he spoke. Elected to an unprecedented third term, FDR was a man whose actions in the coming years would determine the fate of millions of people the world over. His belief in the strength of the nation and in the ability of its citizens to protect and preserve democracy into the future were eloquently expressed.
This latest addition to the archives of America is dedicated at a moment when government of the people by themselves is everywhere attacked. It is therefore, proof – if proof is needed – that our confidence in the future of democracy has not been diminished in this nation and will not diminish.
As the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum celebrates its 75th Anniversary it is more important to look to the future than to the past. My predecessors did an outstanding job of renovating this beautiful old building, updating the exhibits and preparing this great institution for the next 75 years. More than 13 million visitors have walked through the galleries, laughed at the giant Sphinx head, marveled at the ship models and been surprised by the painful steel leg braces FDR wore as he led America through the Great Depression and the Allies to victory in World War II.
I walk by FDR’s private study every morning and try to imagine how FDR would lead the library today. He built his museum next to his home in Hyde Park because he loved the Hudson Valley. I think he would want to engage with his community, as he did throughout his life. He would want to use the latest technology, as he did so effectively with radio. And he would want to reach as many people as possible, helping them to learn from the past to make a better future.
So the FDR Library and Museum’s goal for the future is to enhance and expand our connection to the community. We also want people to share their memories of the Roosevelts with us. To do that we are launching a new effort called “Tell Us Your Roosevelt Story. http://www.fdrlibrary.org/myrooseveltstory.html
On July 2, during our Family Fun Festival, we will have a video crew interviewing people about their family’s connection to the Roosevelts. We will also be encouraging people to share their stores with us on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fdrlibrary , or on Twitter using #myrooseveltstory, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Over time we hope to create a “People’s Archive” that preserves those memories for future generations. Franklin and Eleanor touched the lives of millions of Americans, so we know there are family heirlooms hidden away in old steamer trunks in the attic or in boxes in the basement. We encourage everyone to find their family’s story and share it with us.
As a part of the National Archives, the FDR Library and Museum has a mission to strengthen our nation’s democracy by providing access to government records, and to use new technologies to engage the public in a conversation about the American experience. The issues the Roosevelts championed will be as relevant tomorrow as they were 80 years ago: environmental protection, income equality, fair labor practices, a strong military, human rights, the United Nations and an informed electorate.
To fulfill our mission we will continue our digitization efforts and make as much material available online as possible. We need support to be able to do that. One example is our partnership with AT&T. Last year they funded our Master Speech File project putting the drafts of all of FDR’s speeches online.
This year AT&T is helping the FDR Library transfer old film of his Top-Ten speeches to state–of-the-art digital formats (4K Ultra HD) with enhanced imagery and audio. We will share these new resources with teachers and on social media so we can reach a new generation. We hope they use the lessons of the past to help them shape their future. But with federal budgets tight and getting tighter we need corporate sponsors and individual donors to help us.
If Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were alive today they would want this museum to reach out to people all over the world and engage them about the issues they care most about. In his dedication of the library FDR made his faith in the American people clear:
“It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith. To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.” June 30, 1941
You can learn more about the history of the FDR Library and Museum here: https://fdrlibrary.org/library-history
I believe strongly that the past must never govern the future, I also believe that we must have the past in mind to help us shape the future.
-Eleanor Roosevelt Sept. 3, 1946 Address to the NY Democratic State Convention