Evoking images of newly freed slaves who sought to help reconstruct a war-torn nation and Birmingham civil rights crusaders who marched against injustice, President Obama announced Thursday several new civil rights monuments on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Freedom Riders National Monument, and the Reconstruction Era National Monument designations comes during Obama's last days in the White House.
"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," President Obama said in a statement.
The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes the Birmingham Civil Rights District, a historic landmark in Alabama and the heart of the civil rights movement, where civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched and fought racism. The district includes the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young African American girls were killed and others injured when a bomb exploded during a church service. Kelly Ingram Park, the A.G. Gaston Motel, Bethel Baptist Church, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute are also part of the monument.
The Freedom Riders National Monument is located in Anniston, Alabama honors those who rode integrated buses and were often brutally beaten, jailed or killed in their quest for equality.
The Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina includes four sites that chronicle the saga of newly freed slaves who sought to help rebuild and strengthen the region.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, who proposed legislation for the creation of the civil rights monument applauded the administration's move.
“Today, Birmingham takes its rightful place as the epicenter of the fight for Civil Rights in America,” Sewell said in a statement. "It is such a great tribute to the people of the City of Birmingham that President Obama would make this designation as one of his last actions before leaving the White House. President Obama’s executive order will ensure that the fight for equal rights in the City of Birmingham will forever be cemented in the annals of our democracy."
Stephanie K. Meeks, President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said the designation is an important way to recognize a part of history.
“The Birmingham and Anniston Civil Rights National Monuments honor the pivotal role of Birmingham and the enduring legacy of the Freedom Riders in the civil rights movement, and illuminate our long march towards racial justice in America,” Meeks said in a statement. “From the A.G. Gaston Motel to the 16th Street Baptist Church, the sites in this designation well-deservedly join the ranks of national monuments and parks across the country that reflects seminal turning points in our history. These new national monuments provide a place for reflection on how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go to achieve true equality for all.”
The Birmingham Civil Rights District was established in 1992 by the City of Birmingham.