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Obama Designates 16th Street Baptist Church, Other Historic Civil Rights Sites as National Monuments

President Obama and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama

The 16th Street Baptist Church, where four African-American girls were killed in a bombing by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963, is now a national monument, thanks to President Obama.

The president signed an order on Thursday, Jan. 12, designating as national monuments the historically Black church and two other sites that were central to the Civil Rights Movement. The declaration comes just one week before Obama’s time as president comes to a close.

“Today, I am designating new national monuments that preserve critical chapters of our country’s history, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement,” he wrote in a press release Thursday. “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.”

The 16th Street Baptist Church serves as the focus of the new Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Alabama, which also was designated to protect the historic A.G. Gaston Motel, according to the Associated Press. The motel once served as the headquarters of the civil rights campaign spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr.

Another site, the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama, includes the Greyhound bus station, where a bus carrying a group of Black and white activists was firebombed back in the spring of 1961.

The Reconstruction Era National Monument features a total of four sites throughout Beaufort, South Carolina, honoring a post-Civil War community of freedmen.

Obama also expanded two existing monuments in Oregon and California — the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument, which were both initially established by former president Bill Clinton. With these latest designations, Obama has used his executive power to protect and preserve cultural, natural and historical sites in the U.S. more than any other president, according to The Washington Post

Over the past eight years, the POTUS also has named monuments honoring Latino farmers in California, Japanese Americans who were held in concentration camps in Hawaii and ancestral Pueblo areas in Colorado and Utah.

“I have sought to work with local communities, tribal governments, businesses, sportsmen, members of Congress and others to protect the most important public lands for the benefit of future generations,” Obama wrote. “Today’s actions will help ensure that more of our country’s history will be preserved and celebrated and that more of our outdoors will be protected for all to experience and enjoy.”


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