Secretary Jewell Applauds President’s Designation of the National Monuments to Preserve Pivotal Civil Rights Sites and the First National Monument to Civil War Reconstruction

Office of the Secretary

Also Praises President’s Expansion of Existing National Monuments Protecting Natural & Cultural Resources in California & Oregon

1/12/2017
Last edited 1/13/2017

Date: January 12, 2017
Contacts: Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov
Jeffrey Olson, NPS, 202-208-6843
Kimberly Brubeck, BLM, 202-208-5832

WASHINGTON – As the country prepares to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Acting Director Michael T. Reynolds today applauded President Barack Obama’s designation of three new national monuments to recognize the nation’s journey from the Civil War to the modern Civil Rights Movement. 

The President also expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southwestern Oregon and the California Coastal National Monument to protect natural and cultural resources and areas of critical biodiversity, including highly important wildlife habitat.

Building on the Administration’s commitment to protecting places that are culturally and historically significant and that reflect the story of all Americans, President Obama today designated the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Birmingham, Ala., the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala. and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, S.C. to honor historic sites in both states that played an important role in American civil rights history.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Secretary Jewell. “Now the National Park Service, America’s Storyteller, will forever be responsible for safeguarding the narrative of not only the sparks that ignited the Civil Rights movement but also the hope of the Reconstruction Era, which for far too long, has been neglected from our national conscience.  Current and future generations of Americans will benefit from learning about our painful past and can find inspiration to shape a brighter future.” 

Acting Director of the National Park Service Michael T. Reynolds said, “These new national monuments are examples of public, private and philanthropic partnerships working toward a common goal to expand the American narrative we care for, support and share with park visitors. The cities of Birmingham and Anniston and Calhoun County in Alabama, Penn Center, Inc., the Brick Baptist Church, and private citizens in South Carolina, have donated interests in their property to the American people for inclusion in a national park unit for the benefit of all. In addition, the U.S. Navy has agreed to include historically significant portions of their lands in Port Royal, South Carolina, in the Reconstruction national monument. We look forward to working with everyone to develop the management plans for these sites, getting them open for visitors, and communicating their stories broadly.” 

Meetings with local citizens, local leaders, philanthropic groups, local and statewide elected leaders and members of Congress preceded President Obama’s actions today. Secretary Jewell and former NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis visited the Alabama sites for tours and public meetings in October and Jarvis visited Beaufort County for tours and a public meeting in December.

Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina

The Reconstruction Era began during the Civil War and lasted until the dawn of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s. It remains one of the most complicated and poorly understood periods in American History. During Reconstruction, four million African Americans, newly freed from bondage, sought to integrate themselves into free society, into the educational, economic, and political life of the country. This began in late 1861 in Beaufort County, S.C., after Union forces won the Battle at Port Royal Sound and brought the ‘Lowcountry’ along the South Carolina coast under Union control. More than 10,000 slaves remained there when their owners fled the cotton and rice plantations. The then-Lincoln Administration decided to initiate the ‘Port Royal Experiment’ in Beaufort County to help the former slaves become self-sufficient.

An old, long wooden building with a porch stands in a yard surrounded by trees.
Darrah Hall in Beaufot County, South Carolina. Photo by National Park Service.

The Reconstruction Era National Monument includes four sites in Beaufort County:

  • Darrah Hall and Brick Baptist Church, within Penn School National Historic Landmark District on St. Helena Island, that includes the site of one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves and a church built by slaves for their owners in 1855 and then turned over to the former slaves in 1862 when their owners left the area.
  • The Camp Saxton Site, on U.S. Navy property in Port Royal, where some of the first African Americans joined the U.S. Army, and the site where elaborate ceremonies were held on New Year’s Day 1863 to announce and celebrate the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • The Old Beaufort Firehouse, an historic building located in the midst of historic downtown Beaufort within walking distance of dozens more historic Reconstruction properties.

The Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama

On Mother’s Day 1961, a Freedom Riders bus was attacked at the Greyhound Bus Station in Anniston and was attacked again and burned just six miles out of town adjacent to Route 202. The Freedom Riders remained on board the bus at the station in Anniston while a mob struck with bats and pipes and slashed the bus tires. As the bus moved away from the station and out of town, the mob, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, followed. When the bus broke down, the mob resumed terrorizing the Freedom Riders. The bus was firebombed and members of the mob tried holding the doors shut to trap the Freedom Riders inside. Eventually the Freedom Riders were able to make it off the burning bus but continued to be harassed until Alabama State Troopers dispersed the crowd.

The Freedom Riders were a group of civil rights activists, both African American and Caucasian, who tested integration laws on the interstate bus system. The incident in Anniston was quickly reported in newspapers and shown on television screens across the country, shocking the nation and inspiring more people to join the fight against the injustices of Jim Crow laws in the American South.

The Freedom Riders National Monument includes the former Greyhound Bus Station in Anniston and the bus burning site in Calhoun County six miles out of town.

An old photo of a greyhound bus burning by the side of a highway.
The Freedom Riders' bus burning in 1961. Photo from National Park Service archives.

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

In 1963, Birmingham was the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement. Activists like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Sr., and countless unnamed heroes gathered there to demand equality for all people.  The activists planned the nonviolent marches and protests of the Project C (for Confrontation), or Birmingham campaign.  

When Dr. King, was jailed for participating in marches through Birmingham, he wrote the famous April 16, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, declaring ‘I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.’  The events that took place in Birmingham in 1963 became a galvanizing force for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes the A.G. Gaston Motel, the headquarters for Project C, where  Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy and Shuttlesworth stayed and held strategy sessions and meetings during the Birmingham campaign. They also staged marches, were served a subpoena, and held press conferences on the premises. Dr. King and his colleagues announced the negotiated resolution of the campaign in the motel courtyard on May 10, 1963. Hours later, a bomb exploded near the suite where Dr. King had stayed.

A black and white photo of a park with grassy areas and sidewalks leading to buildings across the street.
View across Kelly Ingram Park, showing Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Right Background) and the Civil Rights Institute (Left Background). Photograph by Jett Low, Historic American Building Survey.

Other landmarks of the American Civil Rights Movement are within walking distance or a short drive from the A.G. Gaston Motel: 

  • 16th Street Baptist Church, target of September 1963 bombing that killed four young girls who were attending a Bible study. 
  • Kelly Ingram Park, where protesters, including many children, were violently disrupted by police dogs and powerful water cannons, as caught on camera and broadcast widely by the news media.
  • 4th Avenue Historic District sites, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as the retail and entertainment center for black-owned businesses serving African American customers during Birmingham's extended period of forced segregation.
  • Bethel Baptist Church, located six miles north of the city center, noted for its significant association with Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. It was the historical headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights led by Shuttlesworth and was bombed three times – in 1956, 1958 and 1962.
  • Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a cultural and educational research center opened in 1992, and potential NPS partner already reaching more than 140,000 annual visitors.

The National Park Service will now work with local citizens, historic society groups, and the public generally to develop management plans for all three new national monuments and prepare them for visitors.  Please check the websites for these monuments to see what is open to the public over time. The Alabama and Beaufort County sites bring to 417 the number of parks in the National Park System.

Expansion of National Monuments Protecting Natural, Cultural Resources in California and Oregon

Today President Obama also expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southwestern Oregon and Northern California, and added six new units to the California Coastal National Monument to protect critical biodiversity, important cultural resources and vital wildlife habitat.

Today’s 48,000-acre expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument builds upon the original monument’s goal to protect the area’s extraordinary biodiversity. Located in southwestern Oregon and established in 2000, Cascade-Siskiyou was the first monument designated solely for the preservation of its biodiversity. The monument is an ecological wonder, home to an incredible variety of rare and endemic plant and animal species, and representing a rich mosaic of forests, grasslands, shrub lands, and wet meadows at the convergence of three mountain ranges. 

Snow covers a gorgeous valley landscape with mountains rising in the background.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

Several years ago, local scientists sounded the alarm that in the face of mounting external pressures including encroaching development and climate change, the original monument boundary was too small to sustain the diverse array of species that it was established to protect. The expansion, which includes a 5,000-acre extension into California, will provide vital habitat connectivity, watershed protection, and landscape-scale resilience to fire, insects and disease, invasive species, drought, or floods – events likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

“The BLM manages some of the nation's wildest and most sacred landscapes, including more than 800 areas that have been protected through congressional and presidential action. We're proud to be charged with stewarding these incredible lands for future generations, including today’s additions to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument,” said Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze. “The BLM looks forward to continuing and expanding our work with local communities to ensure successful management of these special places.”

In October, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor attended a public meeting on the proposed expansion hosted by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in Ashland, Oregon. In addition to Senator Merkley’s leadership, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and then-Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have written in support of the expansion along with a wide array of state and local elected officials, local scientists, area businesses, and numerous conservation groups. Senators Wyden and Merkley also introduced legislation in 2015 that would have protected most of the areas in the expansion.

The California Coastal National Monument expansion, totaling approximately 6,200 acres, will protect six spectacular places on the California coast. The monument was originally established in 2000 to protect marine wildlife habitat just offshore of California’s iconic coastline. In 2014, President Obama expanded the monument to include Point Arena-Stornetta, its first onshore unit. Today’s expansion preserves important habitat for coastal plants and animals, and protects cultural sites that provide insight into the people who lived along the California coast thousands of years ago. Many of the new units of the monument are also culturally and spiritually important to local tribes.

Clouds and sunset reflect in a lagoon of ocean waters with scattered rocks poking out of the water.
California Coastal National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

These new units include:

  • Trinidad Head, a promontory jutting off the coast of Humboldt County, a historic lighthouse sits atop sheer cliffs overlooking crashing waves and rugged sea stacks.
  • Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, just south of Trinidad Head, has spectacular panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Eel River Delta, and the south spit of Humboldt Bay. 
  • Thirteen miles south, the Lost Coast Headlands include rolling hills and dramatically eroding bluffs, punctuated by freshwater creeks, ponds, and pockets of forest. 
  • Cotoni-Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz County extends from the steep slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains to marine terraces overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 5,800 acres, it encompasses ancient archaeological sites, riparian and wetland habitats, coastal prairie grasslands, and woodlands that include stands of coast redwood.  
  • Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County provides visitors the opportunity to tour a historic lighthouse overlooking the site’s namesake white coastal rocks, and observe a colony of massive elephant seals loafing in the sun. 
  • Orange County Rocks and Islands just off the coast of Orange County treat visitors to dramatic crashing waves, unique geology, and an abundance of marine-dependent wildlife including pelicans and seals.

This expansion is the result of former Senator Barbara Boxer’s strong commitment to the California coast, along with former Representative Lois Capps (D-24-CA) and Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-18-CA) and Jared Huffman (D-2-CA), who introduced legislation to protect these areas. In September, BLM Director Neil Kornze joined Representative Capps and state officials at a public meeting in Cambria, California, where they heard from area tribes, local government, the conservation and recreation communities, and local residents in support of the proposed expansion.  

Both expansions will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which also manages the existing monuments.

A map of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument expansion can be found here.

A fact sheet on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument expansion can be found here.

Maps of the California Coastal National Monument expansion can be found here

A fact sheet on the California Coastal National Monument expansion can be found here.