Days before he leaves office, President Obama has taken one more action to leave a tremendous gift to the American people: In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he has designated three new national monuments honoring civil rights history — the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, the Freedom Riders National Monument, and the Reconstruction Era National Monument.
President Obama is making fine use of his final days in office.
He has issued a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in much of the Arctic and Atlantic Seaboard; signed landmark mental health care legislation; issued a ban on withholding federal funds from family planning clinics; and designated two national monuments protecting more than a million acres of land in Utah and Nevada.
Now, he has designated three more national monuments honoring civil rights history.
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument: The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument will protect the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama, which served at one point as the headquarters for the civil rights campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The monument will also tell the stories associated with other nearby Birmingham historic sites, including the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church– which was the site of a bombing in 1963; and Kelly Ingram Park, where Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor turned hoses and dogs on young civil rights protesters.
Freedom Riders National Monument: The Freedom Riders National Monument is located in Anniston, Alabama and contains two sites that help underscore the Freedom Riders’ importance to the civil rights movement. The monument includes the Greyhound Bus Station where a racially integrated bus of Freedom Riders attempting to test desegregation was attacked in the spring of 1961, and the site where the same bus was firebombed and burned some minutes later.
Reconstruction Era National Monument: Located in coastal South Carolina, the new Reconstruction Era National Monument encompasses four sites throughout Beaufort County that tell the vibrant story of the robust community developed by freed former African American slaves in the Reconstruction Era South. This designation includes the Brick Baptist Church and Darrah Hall at the existing Penn Center on St. Helena Island as well as the Old Firehouse in downtown Beaufort and parts of Camp Saxton in Port Royal where the Emancipation Proclamation was read on New Year’s Day in 1863. These sites establish the first unit of the National Park System focused on telling the story of Reconstruction.
In a statement, President Obama said these monuments “tell the important stories of the citizens who helped launch the civil rights movement in Birmingham and the Freedom Riders whose bravery raised national awareness of segregation and violence. These stories are part of our shared history.”
He also addressed what has become a quiet, though profoundly meaningful, part of his legacy: “From designating Stonewall National Monument, our country’s first national monument honoring the LGBT movement, to recognizing the movement for women’s equality through the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, I have sought to build a more inclusive National Park System and ensure that our national parks, monuments and public lands are fully reflective of our nation’s diverse history and culture.”
And so he has. Thank you, President Obama.