Some Disruptive Years
Nobody else could have done it.
Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold, 1940
WHEN WE ARRIVED IN 1937, Washington, D.C., still resembled a typical quiet southern city. Closer examination, however, revealed a unique environment created by the presence of its most prominent resident—the federal government. Politics then, as now, was the lifeblood of the nation’s capital, and most residents exhibited an insatiable appetite for political news ranging from major international events to the latest White House dinner party.
When our family arrived that spring, the Spanish Civil War dominated the international scene. Newspapers reported that Germany and Italy were actively involved in the effort to overthrow Spain’s fragile democracy. Still, few Americans were concerned, ignoring the warnings of those such as New York City’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who denounced Hitler as “that brown shirt fascist who is menacing the peace of the world.”1
Locally, a group called the League for Progress in Architecture was waging a battle against plans to build the Jefferson Memorial. The league appealed to President Roosevelt to delay construction until a national competition could be held. Members argued that the proposed site for the memorial was unacceptable and that the design would render the monument “dead before it is built.”2 Roosevelt withstood the clamor, for more important things were on his mind—especially the nation’s economy, which continued to be the major concern of the day. Roosevelt was locked in a battle with the Supreme Court, whose members were obstructing his efforts to deal with the Depression. To bypass the Court, he had devised a scheme, known as the “court-packing plan,” that would