A plaque commemorating the Freedom Riders, a group civil rights activists, in Birmingham, Alabama
A plaque commemorating the Freedom Riders, a group civil rights activists, in Birmingham, Alabama (Courtesy of kschlot1 via Wikimedia)

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President Obama designated three new national monuments honoring the nation’s civil rights history.

In one of his last official acts as president, Obama’s designations builds on his administration’s commitment to protecting places that are culturally and historically significant and which reflect the story of all Americans, according to a White House statement.

The designations will also protect historic sites in Alabama and South Carolina that played an important role in American history stretching from the Civil War to the civil rights movement.
Included among the new monuments are the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Freedom Riders National Monument and Reconstruction Era National Monument.

• 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.

Additionally, Obama is expanding two existing national monuments to protect critical biodiversity, important historic and natural resources and vital wildlife habitat in California and Oregon.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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