President Obama on Tuesday will for the first time exercise his broad land conservation authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act by naming a Civil War-era military fort in Virginia a national monument.
The designation of Fort Monroe will make history in several ways: honoring the location of a Civil War landmark that served as a haven for African Americans, as well as the Union general who sheltered them; creating the first national monument in Virginia; and making President Obama the latest in a long line of presidents from both parties who have embraced the Antiquities Act as a means to protect treasured American landscapes and historical places for future generations to enjoy. As Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said:
limit or end the presidential authority to designate national monuments. Almost every president has used the authority since Theodore Roosevelt, including President George W. Bush.
The action taken by President Obama will ensure that this important event in American history will get the recognition it deserves. Fort Monroe stands as a testament to the personal courage of thousands of Americans, including the enslaved people who bravely took control of their destinies there during the Civil War, as well as the courage of the Union general who ensured their safety. Together, their heroic actions heralded the beginning of the end of slavery in America.
As noted by Center for American Progress president and CEO John Podesta, the ability of presidents to use the Antiquities Act is a vital authority that ensures our long tradition of protecting public lands and helps “revitalize and strengthen local communities.”