President Barack Obama named five new national monuments on Thursday, cementing his legacy as the president that has used executive power more than any of his predecessors to establish sites of significance — whether it be historical, natural, or cultural.
Three out of the five new national monuments are in the South and are yet another symptom of President Obama’s desire to “expand America’s shared national identity through the narrative it tells with its public lands.”
In a statement, the White House emphasized the importance of calling attention to the difficult parts of America’s past as a means of moving forward.
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. These stories are part of our shared history.
The monuments in the South all pay tribute to the country’s difficult past and struggle for civil rights. As NPR reports, the designated spaces include the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1963, four black girls were killed when the church was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. According to NPR, the church will be at the center of newly-formed Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Park. Similarly, Obama has also established the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama. This includes the Greyhound station where, in 1961, interracial activists were attacked. Lastly, the Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina, has also been designated as a means of paying tribute to the community of freed slaves that lived there.
Alan Spears, cultural-resources director of the National Parks Conservation Association, commented on the historical importance of Obama’s decision to designate these monuments, 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.”