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Eisenhower Memorial, opening in DC this week, pays tribute to Ike's Kansas roots

By Bryan Lowry, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

"Ike is with other people. Nowhere do you see him as the chest-bumping singular figure who is taking credit for all of the achievements. He was a leader," said Susan Eisenhower, noting her grandfather took responsibility for failure but gave credit for success to his subordinates.

One of the aides depicted is African American.

"We wanted to bring attention to Eisenhower's accomplishments on civil rights, which are often overlooked," Tigwell said.

The statues of the aides represent ideas rather than specific people, but she noted that Eisenhower was the first president to employ an African American aide in the executive office of the president, E. Frederick Morrow. He also oversaw the desegregation of Washington, D.C.

Eisenhower famously sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce school desegregation in Little Rock in 1957 and that same year signed the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first piece of civil rights legislation since 1875.

The legislation enabled federal prosecution for voter intimidation, although the law was more limited and incremental than the better-known civil rights and voting rights acts passed under President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.

 

Despite the gains, Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed his disappointment in letters to Eisenhower that he did not use his office to more forcefully speak out against discrimination.

The memorial has been planned for 21 years and enjoyed bipartisan support. But its opening comes at a moment when statues of white historical figures have become political flashpoints.

Figures of Confederate leaders, presidents and Christopher Columbus have been taken down amid an ongoing debate over racial justice.

Eisenhower, the general who defeated Nazi Germany, is unlikely to inspire the same ire as those figures. But Roberts invoked the cultural debate ahead of the opening.

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