Obama Honors Civil Rights Movement With New National Monuments

By Richard Gonzales NPR

A downtown section of Birmingham, Ala., including the church where four black girls were killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in 1963, has been declared a national monument by President Obama.

The 16th Street Baptist Church will be the focal point of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park. The bombing, which also injured 22 other people, proved to be a turning point in the civil rights struggle.

In his order signed Thursday, a week before the end of his administration, Obama also designated two other sites central to the civil rights struggle as national monuments.

In Anniston, Ala., the new Freedom Riders National Monument includes the Greyhound Bus station where a bus carrying an interracial group of activists was attacked in 1961. Another site, the Reconstruction Era National Monument commemorating a post-Civil War community of freed slaves will be established in Beaufort County, S.C.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama said he is seeking to

“…preserve critical chapters of our country’s history from the Civil War to the civil rights movement. These monuments preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom. They 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. ”

As the Associated Press reports, the practical impact of Obama’s action is that the National Park Service will oversee the designated areas as parts of the federal park system and the sites become eligible for federal support.

Obama also enlarged two existing areas in California and Oregon, the California Coastal National Monument and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, originally established by President Clinton.

With these designations under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, Obama has sought to preserve and protect more natural, cultural and historic sites than any other president in history, according to the Washington Post.

Obama already has designated as national monuments sites honoring interned Japanese Americans in Hawaii, Latino farmworkers in California, and LGBT activists in New York.

The Post quotes Alan Spears, the National Parks Conservation Association’s cultural resources director, as saying, “There was a time when we only focused on men on horseback, with swords. That was a different time. We’ve expanded the definition of what’s important, and what’s nationally important.”

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