President Obama today announced three new national monuments honoring key events in the civil rights movement and expanded both the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and the California Coastal National Monument.
The White House said the president was using his authority to mark the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday by creating two new sites in Alabama — the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the Freedom Riders National Monument — and one in South Carolina — the Reconstruction Era National Monument.
"Today, I am designating new national monuments that 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," Obama said in a statement. "These stories are part of our shared history. ... 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."
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis visited the Anniston, Ala., site of the new Freedom Riders National Monument, in October (Greenwire, Oct. 27, 2016).
The new monument includes both the former Greyhound bus where an angry mob attacked civil rights activists coming from Atlanta on Mother's Day 1961, as well as the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and State Highway 202 where the bus was firebombed later that day.
During that same trip, Obama administration officials also visited the site of the new Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which will protect the A.G. Gaston Motel where King set up his "war room" before the property was bombed in May 1963.
The hotel, which has been vacant for more than 20 years and is in need of restoration, will be used to "tell the stories" of the nearby historic 16th Street Baptist Church, where a firebomb killed four girls in September 1963, and Kelly Ingram Park, where then-Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor notoriously used fire hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.
The third new monument will be located in the Sea Islands of South Carolina, comprising four sites in Beaufort Country dating to the Reconstruction Era.
The Reconstruction Era National Monument includes the Brick Baptist Church, which was built by slaves and later became the site of one of the country's first schools for freed slaves. Other sites in the monument include the Old Firehouse and portions of Camp Saxton in Port Royal where the Emancipation Proclamation was read on New Year's Day in 1863.
Jarvis visited the South Carolina locations on a scouting trip for the new monument last month (Greenwire, Dec. 16, 2016).
The White House also announced today that the president is enlarging both of the West Coast monuments.
The California Coastal Monument was created by President Clinton in 2000. It spans the corridor off California's 1,100-mile coastline, protecting more than 20,000 small islands and pinnacles, as well as about 1,665 acres of public onshore lands in Northern California.
Obama already enlarged the monument in 2014, but congressional Democrats have pressed the administration to expand it to encompass more outcroppings as well as onshore sites.
The new designation will add 6,230 acres, including six more coastal sites pushed by members of California's congressional delegation.
The Bureau of Land Management, which manages the monument, dispatched Director Neil Kornze to the site in September, a clear sign the administration was seriously considering the proposal (Greenwire, Sept. 20, 2016).
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument will add 42,000 acres of public land in Oregon and 5,000 acres in California in an effort "to increase vital habitat connectivity, watershed protection, and landscape-scale resilience for the area's unique biological values, particularly in the face of growing impacts from climate change," the White House said.
The monument was the first created with the sole intention of protecting biodiversity. Both of Oregon's Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden had urged Interior officials to add to the monument, arguing its existing 65,000-acre boundary left "a patchwork of vital habitats and watersheds unprotected" (E&E News PM, Oct. 13, 2016).
Obama has used his powers under the Antiquities Act to protect more lands and waters than any other president.
Reporter Jeremy P. Jacobs contributed.
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