Obama designates Pullman Site, Internment Camp, Brown’s Canyon as National Monuments as Congress Pushes for ‘No New National Parks’

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Under President Obama's new “Every Kid in a Park” initiative fourth graders and their families will have with free admission to National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Under President Obama’s new “Every Kid in a Park” initiative fourth graders and their families will have with free admission to National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President Obama went home to Chicago to launch the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative that will provide all fourth grade students and their familieswith free admission to National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year.

At the same time, the President announced the creation of three new National Monuments across the country, including the Pullman National Monument in Illinois, a location iconic for its history of labor unrest and civil rights advances, which will be Chicago’s first National Park Service (NPS) unit; Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii, the site of an internment camp where Japanese American citizens, resident immigrants, and prisoners of war were held captive during World War II, and Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado, an historic site of extraordinary beauty with world-class recreational opportunities that attract visitors from around the globe.

“Together, these monuments will help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans,” the White House said.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks and our monuments, our lands, our waters — these places are the birthright of all Americans,” President Obama said.

But of the three, the Pullman National Monument has special significance for the President, not just for its importance to the labor movement and the civil rights movement. As he related the story:

“This place has been a milestone in our journey toward a more perfect union,” President Obama said.

“So this site is at the heart of what would become America’s Labor Movement — and as a consequence, at the heart of what would become America’s middle class.  And bit by bit, we expanded this country’s promise to more Americans.  But too many still lived on the margins of that dream.

“The white workers who built Pullman’s rail cars won new rights.  But those rights were not extended to the black porters who worked on these cars — the former slaves, and sons and grandsons who made beds and carried luggage and folded sheets and shined shoes.   And they worked as many as 20 hours a day on less than three hours’ sleep just for a couple dollars a day.  Porters who asked for a living wage, porters who asked for better hours or better working conditions were told they were lucky to have a job at all.  If they continued to demand better conditions, they were fired.  It seemed hopeless to try and change the status quo.

“But a few brave men and women saw things differently.  And one summer night in 1925, porters packed a hall in Harlem, and a young man there named A. Philip Randolph led the meeting.  And what A. Philip Randolph said was, “What this is about,” he said, “is making you master of your economic fate.”  Making you master of your economic fate.  And so he and others organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters around the strategy that he would employ throughout his life:  “If you stand firm and hold your ground, in the long run you’ll win.”

“That was easier said than done.  Over the years, Brotherhood leaders and supporters were fired, they were harassed.  But true to A. Philip Randolph’s call, they stood firm, they held their ground.  And 12 years to the day after A. Philip Randolph spoke in that hall in Harlem, they won, and Pullman became the first large company in America to recognize a union of black workers.

“And this was one of the first great victories in what would become the Civil Rights Movement.  It wouldn’t be the last victory.  It was his union that allowed A. Philip Randolph to pressure President Roosevelt to desegregate the defense industry.  It was those Pullman porters who gave the base by which A. Philip Randolph could convince President Truman to desegregate the Armed Forces.  It was those porters who helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, who were the central organizers of the March on Washington.

“And that’s not just the story of a movement, that’s the story of America.  Because as Americans, we believe that workers’ rights are civil rights. That dignity and opportunity aren’t just gifts to be handed down by a generous government or by a generous employer; they are rights given by God, as undeniable and worth protecting as the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains. …

“That’s the story of this place — that, together, we can do great things that we cannot accomplish alone.  That’s why today I’m designating Chicago’s Pullman District as America’s newest national monument.  I want this younger generation, I want future generations to come learn about their past.  Because I guarantee you there are a lot of young people right here in Chicago, just a few blocks away, living in this neighborhood who may not know that history.

“I want future generations to know that while the Pullman porters helped push forward our rights to vote, and to work, and to live as equals, their legacy goes beyond even that.  These men and women without rank, without wealth or title, became the bedrock of a new middle class.  These men and women gave their children and grandchildren opportunities they never had.

“Here in Chicago, one of those porter’s great-granddaughter had the chance to go to a great college and a great law school, and had the chance to work for the mayor, and had the chance to climb the ladder of success and serve as a leader in some of our cities’ most important institutions.  And I know that because today she’s the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.

“So to the young people here today, that’s what I hope you take away from this place.  It is right that we think of our national monuments as these amazing vistas, and mountains, and rivers.  But part of what we’re preserving here is also history.  It’s also understanding that places that look ordinary are nothing but extraordinary.  The places you live are extraordinary, which means you can be extraordinary.  You can make something happen, the same way these workers here at Pullman made something happen.  (Applause.)

“Because for all the progress that we’ve made — and we have made a lot of progress — our moral revolution is unfinished.  And it’s up to each of us to protect that promise of America, and expand that promise of opportunity for all people.  That long march has never be easy.  This place, historic Pullman, teaches us we have to keep standing firm and together.  That’s the story of who we are.  That’s the story of our past.  And I have no doubt that we will pass the torch from generation to generation so that it is the story of our future as well.”

Pullman National Monument in Illinois:

This monument will preserve and highlight America’s first planned industrial town, and a site that tells important stories about the social dynamics of the industrial revolution, of American opportunity and discrimination, and of the rise of labor unions and the struggle for civil rights and economic opportunity for African Americans and other minorities. The 203-acre site includes factories and buildings associated with the Pullman Palace Car Company, which was founded in 1867 and employed thousands of workers to construct and provide service on railroad cars. While the Pullman Company employed a mostly white workforce to manufacture railroad passenger cars, it also recruited the first porters, waiters and maids from the population of former slaves to serve on its luxury cars. Though lower-paying, these service jobs held prestige in the African-American community and played a major role in the rise of the African-American middle class and, through an historic labor agreement, the development of the civil rights movement of the 20th Century. The historic labor movement organized by A. Philip Randolph in the 1930s to win rights for these porters, waiters and maids ultimately created the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor union led by African Americans to receive a charter in the American Federation.

The National Park Foundation announced that nearly $8 million dollars has already been raised to support the monument, which will be Chicago’s first National Park Service unit and will be managed by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (http://pullmanil.org/nps.html).

Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado:

This monument will protect a stunning section of Colorado’s upper Arkansas River Valley. Located in Chaffee County near the town of Salida, Colorado, the 21,586-acre monument features rugged granite cliffs, colorful rock outcroppings, and mountain vistas that are home to a diversity of plants and wildlife, including bighorn sheep and golden eagles. Members of Congress, local elected officials, conservation advocates, and community members have worked for more than a decade to protect the area, which hosts world-class recreational opportunities that attract visitors from around the globe for hiking, whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing. In addition to supporting this vibrant outdoor recreation economy, the designation will protect the critical watershed and honor existing water rights and uses, such as grazing and hunting. The monument will be cooperatively managed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and USDA’s National Forest Service.

Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii:

This monument permanently protects a site where Japanese American citizens, resident immigrants, and prisoners of war were held captive during World War II. Located on the island of Oahu, the monument will help tell the difficult story of the internment camp’s impact on the Japanese American community and the fragility of civil rights during times of conflict. Honouliuli Internment Camp, located in a steep canyon not far from Pearl Harbor, opened in March, 1943 and was the largest and longest-used confinement site for Japanese and European Americans and resident immigrants in Hawaii, eventually holding 400 civilian internees and 4,000 prisoners of war. The camp was largely forgotten until uncovered in 2002, and the President’s designation will ensure its stories are told for generations. The monument will be managed by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

Every Kid in a Park

In the lead up to the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, the President’s Every Kid in a Park initiative is a call to action to get all children to visit and enjoy America’s unparalleled outdoors. \

“Today, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces.  At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside.  A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week – more than a full time job.

“America’s public lands and waters offer space to get outside and get active, and are living classrooms that provide opportunities to build critical skills through hands-on activities.”

To inspire the next generation to discover all that America’s public lands and waters have to offer, the Obama Administration will provide all 4th grade students and their families free admission to all National Parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, starting with the 2015-2016 school year.  The initiative will also:

Make it easy for schools and families to plan trips:  The Administration will distribute information and resources to make it easy for teachers and families to identify nearby public lands and waters and to find programs that support youth outings.

Provide transportation support to schools with the most need: As an integral part of this effort, the National Park Foundation (NPF) – the congressionally chartered foundation of the National Park Service – is expanding and re-launching its Ticket to Ride program as Every Kid in a Park, which will award transportation grants for kids to visit parks, public lands and waters, focusing on schools that have the most need.   

    Provide educational materials: The initiative will build on a wide range of educational programs and tools that the federal land management agencies already use.  For example, NPS has re-launched a website with over 1,000 materials developed for K-12 teachers, including science labs, lesson plans, and field trip guides. And a number of federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Education, and NPS participate in Hands on the Land, a national network of field classrooms and agency resources that connects students, teachers, families, and volunteers with public lands and waterways.

To further support this effort, the President’s 2016 Budget includes a total increased investment of $45 million for youth engagement programs throughout the Department of the Interior, with $20 million specifically provided to the National Park Service for youth activities, including bringing 1 million fourth-grade children from low-income areas to national parks. This increase will also fund dedicated youth coordinators to help enrich children and family learning experiences at parks and online. 

‘Conservation, a Truly American Idea’

The President, standing near the site of the historic Pullman town in Chicago, said, “For a century, rangers, and interpreters, and volunteers and visitors have kept alive what the writer Wallace Stegner once called ‘the best idea we ever had’ — our belief that the country’s most special places should belong not just to the rich, not just to the powerful, but belong to everybody — not just now, but for all time.

“Conservation is a truly American idea.  The naturalists and industrialists and politicians who dreamt up our system of public lands and waters did so in the hope that, by keeping these places, these special places in trust — places of incomparable beauty, places where our history was written — then future generations would value those places the same way as we did.  It would teach us about ourselves, and keep us grounded and keep us connected to what it means to be American.  And it’s one of our responsibilities, as Americans, to protect this inheritance and to strengthen it for the future.

“And that’s why I’ve used my authority to set aside more public lands and waters than any President in history.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, starting next month, we’re going to encourage every American to “Find Your Park,” because chances are, there’s one closer than you think.”

Antiquities Act Under Threat of ‘No New National Parks’ Legislation

The Antiquities Act was first exercised by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  Since then, 16 presidents have used this authority to protect unique natural and historic features in America, such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients.

With these new designations, President Obama will have used the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 16 national monuments. Altogether, he has protected more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters – more than any other President – as well as preserved sites that help tell the story of significant people or extraordinary events in American history, such as Cèsar E. Chàvez National Monument in California, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, and Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio.

However, the Republican-led Congress has moved to undermine the President’s authority to designate national monuments.

“Since 1906, presidents of both parties have used this legislation to protect sites, objects, and landscapes of historic, cultural, or scientific interest on federally-owned or controlled property,” the National Trust for Historic Preservation stated. “Some of America’s most iconic places were first protected by presidential national monument designations, including the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon and Acadia. Recent designations such as Fort Monroe, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, the César E. Chávez National Monument — and now Pullman — demonstrate just how critical the Antiquities Act is to protecting America’s diverse historic and cultural sites.

“Now, only two months into 114th Congress, seven bills have already been introduced that would weaken, restrict or add burdensome requirements to the president’s use of the Antiquities Act. These bills pose a serious threat to the future preservation of America’s most important and beloved places.”

(See more at National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2600 Virginia Ave. NW Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20037, 202-588-6000, 800-315-6847, PreservationNation.org and SavingPlaces.org.

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