The Who2 Blog

FDR’s Four Freedoms Were Meant For the Entire World, It Turns Out

So it seems that just two years ago, on Roosevelt Island just off Manhattan, they built a memorial dedicated specifically to President Franklin Roosevelts 1941 “Four Freedoms” speech.  It’s in the East River, almost immediately across from the United Nations complex. Maybe they planned that it that way.  

Your intrepid reporter made a visit on a sunny spring Saturday.

First you ride the gondola over from Manhattan, next to the Queensboro Bridge…

… also known as the 59th Street Bridge of Simon and Garfunkel fame.

A nice walk down Roosevelt Island, facing south with the trees not quite yet in bloom.

The entrance to the Four Freedoms Memorial Park is simply a few trees and a broad, shallow set of steps.

…which leads to an open grassy lawn leading down to a point at the end of the island. The simplicity and the V shape reminded me strongly of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.  This park was only opened in 2012, but apparently the design was done by Louis Kahn in the early 1970s, well before the Vietnam Memorial was created.

At the end of the ‘V’ is a plaza, which on this day was being set up for a wedding or some other event. Which took a little grandeur out of the thing. But ah, well. It is quite a location.

At the front of the plaza is this giant bust of FDR. I don’t want to say that it didn’t look like Franklin Roosevelt, but… it didn’t look like Franklin Roosevelt. 

It looked like Arnold Palmer. But that’s ony a quibble. And now onto the Four Freedoms themselves.

On the back of the wall behind the bust is printed the key passage from FDR’s speech from December 6, 1941:

In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want… everywhere win the world. The fourth is freedom from fear… anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.
I was struck by Roosevelt’s emphasis on “everywhere in the world.” It seems rather broad-minded. It really made me feel good to see that, back then at least, we were claiming these rights for everyone. And also claiming that it was something that could be done right now, not just in the vague future. Good for FDR.
After reading those stirring words, you can turn around and look south down the East River and across at the United Nations complex, where those kinds of inclusive and peaceful words are specially approved.
Here’s a better shot of the UN complex, which is so tidy and striking it looks almost like an architect’s model. It’s comforting to know that there are still people out there working on peace, and that there’s also a small spot honoring FDR’s sensible words on the topic.
And it wasn’t all serious. On the way out, I passed this sign. “Bullyrag” — that almost sounds like Teddy Roosevelt speaking.

The author, feeling free on a sunny spring day.

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