Happy Presidents’ Day from New Pullman Park & Edmund Pettus Bridge
February 19 President Obama will travel to Chicago to declare the historic Pullman District a National Monument and part of the National Park System.
President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with the renowned leader Asa Philip Randolph who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925.
Happy Presidents’ Day to you! And Kudos to our Presidents who have used their authority over more than a century to create national parks and expand our glorious National Park System! Today the system is more robust than it has ever been, with a strong contingent of units that reflect our country’s spectacular natural beauty, our cultural composition and our historic evolution. This Presidents’ Day weekend we can experience all 400-plus units of the system completely free of entry fees, and I hope you take the opportunity to partake of this smorgasbord in a park near you.
One of the best things about our national parks is that you can go back again and find everything exactly the same as when you were there 10 or 20 years ago, as I demonstrate in this brief video from our visit to Everglades National Park and the Anhinga Trail last Monday. EXACTLY the scene we experienced in 1995 that we immortalized in our book, Legacy on the Land, played out behind me as I read.
Which is why today I am ecstatic to report that our President Obama has used his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the new Pullman National Monument in Chicago this week, making it part of our protected National Park System. According to the Washington Post: “The area, which includes nearly 90percent of the original buildings that rail car magnate George Pullman built a century ago for his factory town, was the birthplace of the nation’s first African American labor union. The president will travel to Chicago Feb. 19 to make the designation in person. “Lynn McClure, Midwest senior director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement the site deserved national recognition. “‘The people who are part of the Pullman legacy helped to shape America as we know it today,’ McClure said in a statement. “Pullman workers fought for fair labor conditions in the late 19th century and the Pullman porters helped advance America’s civil rights movement… Thanks to the president, Pullman’s story will soon be remembered and recounted for the millions of people that visit America’s national parks each year.’ “
I am ecstatic not only because our President has the courage to buck opposition in Congress to his using the Antiquities Act, but also because the NPCA with which I’ve served for close to 15 years dedicated itself to achieving this outcome. I’m ecstatic for what it will mean to our DELnsb speaker Majora Carter, who told us with such pride about her father’s time as a Pullman porter and how her work as an international conservationist expands his legacy. I’m ecstatic for what it will mean to Johnny Parham Jr., Frank’s friend since their days at Morehouse College, who told us how his father’s time as a Pullman Porter helped establish his family’s quality of life and inspired him to dedicate himself to a career in human rights advocacy.
Most of all, I’m excited to see the artifacts and memorabilia that will be collected and displayed at the new park. I can hardly wait to see the photographs, the postcards and letters the Pullman Porters must have sent back from their journeys out west. Though their responsibility was to attend to the comfort of wealthy travelers, the black porters must have gasped in awe at the spectacular natural vistas they passed through, many of which remain the same today because they’re protected in the park system. I know they would have wanted to share that experience with their families back home.
Sixteen presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have used the Antiquities Act to permanently protect public lands and historic sites since the Act’s passage in 1906. Some of America’s most beloved and iconic landmarks, such as the Grand Teton and Arches National Parks, were originally protected as national monuments under the Act. But among their first acts of business, the 114th Congress proposed the bill H.R.330 that would amend the act to block the President from designating any new national monuments without congressional approval and an extensive environmental review.
Such is the complexity of our American experience that several Republican legislators actually urged President Obama to create the Pullman National Monument. If I ever doubted that this American experiment in Democracy will flourish, I take renewed comfort from this occurrence as I do from hearing it from the lips of our beloved Congressman John Lewis. In an interview with on Face the Nation yesterday, the renowned human rights leader who was beaten into unconsciousness on Bloody Sunday told Bob Schieffer he never doubts that we will arrive at that Beloved Community.
And though Frank and I have walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail which is part of the National Park System, it wasn’t until yesterday that I leaned that Mr. Pettus was a Confederate General, the leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and a US Senator. Such is the complexity of our American experience that a man who would have done everything in his power to retard the progress of Black citizens is inexorably linked in history with our strength and liberation.
Thank you, Mr. President and all Presidents who recognize and value our common heritage and the legacy we must pass down to future generations. Happy Presidents Day to all from our beloved National Park System!
Please support our work to help keep the system relevant to the American public by buying our books from our website at Legacy on the Land! www.legacyontheland.com
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