He called his approach “the middle way,” as Ms. Eisenhower recounted in her new book, “How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions.” At the peak of his popularity, he had the support of 79 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, a full 30 percentage points more than Mr. Trump at his height. But there seems to be little middle way appealing to both sides in American life right now.
“We are in a polarized moment. We’re going to be in a polarized moment for a long time,” said William I. Hitchcock, the author of “The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s” and a historian at the University of Virginia. “But maybe there’s a place for an actual physical site where you can reflect about what life might be like in a nonpolarized world.”
For those advocating the removal of statues of Confederate generals, slaveholders and others with checkered histories on race, Eisenhower presents a different sort of figure. While not a crusader on race relations, he arguably did more to advance civil rights than any president from the end of Reconstruction until the movement in the 1960s.
Eisenhower desegregated Washington, D.C., and completed Harry S. Truman’s desegregation of the military. He appointed Earl Warren, the chief justice of the Supreme Court who issued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that desegregated public schools, and he sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock, Ark., to escort Black students past the defiant governor and an angry white mob. Eisenhower also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957; while watered down to overcome Southern resistance, it was still the first such legislation since the 19th century and established the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
Eisenhower’s innate caution, though, would be unsatisfying for those seeking bolder action. He largely avoided making a moral argument for equal rights, expressing concern about alienating white Southerners and arguing that laws could not change hearts. He disappointed many who wanted him to confront Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting campaign, believing it would be better not to engage and to let him self-destruct instead.
The Eisenhower Memorial was erected on a four-acre plot along Independence Avenue in front of the Education Department and across from the National Air and Space Museum. Originally scheduled to open in May to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, the dedication was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and will be streamed live on Facebook on Thursday at 7 p.m.