President Obama To Create A New National Monument At Fort Monroe In Virginia


By Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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:

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.

The president is expected to make the formal announcement on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the White House, capping an effort that drew broad support among Virginia officials and local residents in the Hampton Roads area at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The designation will protect several hundreds of acres which will be managed by the National Park Service.

Established in the early 19th Century, Fort Monroe was a strategic military base, serving most recently as a training center for the U.S. Army. But it earned its place in American history more broadly during the Civil War, when three African American slaves escaped the Confederate Army and fled to Fort Monroe. They were seized as “contraband of war” by the Union Army commander, which kept them from being returned to their owners. More than a half million African Americans later followed the lead of the three slaves, finding freedom in the contraband camp near Hampton Roads and becoming a self-contained African American city.

The recognition of this little known but vital piece of American history comes as House Republicans are pushing several pieces of legislation that would 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.

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.”

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