President Obama will turn to the Antiquities Act of 1906 for the first time to designate Fort Monroe in Virginia as a national monument, according to officials at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
A release from the trust this morning said the president will sign an executive order on Tuesday to make the designation.
“The action taken by President Obama will ensure that this important event in American history will get the recognition it deserves,” said Stephanie Meeks, the trust's president. “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.
"By designating this iconic place as a national monument, President Obama has ensured that future generations of Americans will have the opportunity to learn from, and be inspired by, this vital piece of American history.”
Political support for preservation and national park status for the National Historic Landmark property in Hampton, Virginia, has been building ever since the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommended the deactivation of Fort Monroe. Public meetings in Virginia have confirmed that the idea has strong grassroots backing. The proposal has also been endorsed by many key elected officials and community leaders, including Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, Congressmen Scott Rigell, Bobby Scott, Rob Wittman, J. Randy Forbes and Gerry Connolly, and Hampton Mayor Molly Ward.
And this past summer Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis both visited the fort and attended a listening session with area officials.
“For more than 100 years, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to enshrine and protect some of America’s most important historic places, from the Grand Canyon to the Statue of Liberty to Chaco Canyon," Ms. Meeks pointed out. "Fort Monroe will now become America’s newest National Monument, assuming its rightful place alongside these other beloved national treasures.”
According to the trust, "the self-emancipated men and women who formed the Grand “Contraband” Camp near present-day downtown Hampton became America’s first self-contained African American city. The residents of the camp developed their own churches, schools and businesses. Today, there are eight “contraband” churches remaining that were founded by the residents of the camps, and their descendants comprise these congregations to this day."
“The profound and lasting importance of Fort Monroe to the African American community — and to the nation as a whole — cannot be overstated, and we applaud the President’s action,” said the Rev. Clary, Jr., speaking on behalf of the congregations. “This is literally the place that bookends the slavery experience in America. In 1619 Old Point Comfort, now Fort Monroe, was the site where the institution of slavery formally began. In 1861 Fort Monroe witnessed the beginnings of the Civil War-era freedom movement, one of the least well-known and most important chapters of American history. In sum, Fort Monroe is an ideal place to commemorate the struggles and triumphs of those who suffered in bondage and risked everything to win freedom.”
Going forward, the National Trust is committed to continue its work with both public and private partners to ensure that Fort Monroe is a living, breathing historic place where people work, live, and visit. Preserving historic buildings and adapting them for new productive uses will keep Fort Monroe a vital part of the Hampton Roads community while honoring the important history of the fortress and promoting heritage tourism to the area. Working alongside the National Park Service, the Fort Monroe Authority, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and other allies the National Trust will represent the public’s interest in the long-term preservation and enhancement of Fort Monroe.