Tuesday, November 1, 2011 will go down in history as the day that President Obama designated Virginia's historic Fort Monroe as a National Monument -- our nation's newest area managed by the National Park Service.
Any lover of American cultural, historical and natural legacies should undoubtedly commend the president for this move. Using the power granted to him under the Antiquities Act of 1906, President Obama became the 16th president to utilize this right. Fifteen prior presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect iconic places -- such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty -- since the Act was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Today, President Obama joins the ranks of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, George W. Bush and others who all had the foresight to protect our nation's land and history.
Fort Monroe is where slavery began and where slavery began to end.
Fort Monroe -- located in Hampton, Virginia -- has a history dating back to settlements in the early 1600s. Enslaved persons first landed on the peninsula that holds the fort in 1619, and during the Civil War, the fort became a passageway to freedom. The Fort also holds significant conservation values as it is surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay waterfront and a small wetland with nesting Ospreys.
President Obama's decision to designate Fort Monroe as a National Monument does not come as a surprise, but instead reflects the will of a broad coalition of local and national organizations. Hundreds of local citizens have spoken out in favor of protecting Fort Monroe at town hall meetings. Additionally, local elected officials -- including the Mayor of Hampton, Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell and most members of the Virginia Congressional delegation -- support the designation.
Places like Fort Monroe may be under attack again.
Some lawmakers have introduced legislation that would limit the president's authority to designate National Monuments under the Antiquities Act. These members -- Congressmen Bishop (R- UT), Nunez (R -CA), Herger (R-CA), Rehberg (R-MT) and Labrador (R-ID) and Congresswoman Foxx (R-NC) -- have all introduced legislation that would that would weaken the right of Obama, and all presidents in the future, to designate national monuments. Yet people across the United States want to protect special places that define the American spirit.
President Obama's designation of Fort Monroe as a National Monument is aligned with the values and spirit of the American people, and will hopefully be a strong indicator of things to come.