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Obama is urged to make Monroe a National Monument
David Macaulay blogs about any and everything pertaining to the city of Hampton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
In what would be a highly significant act, President Barack Obama is being urged to make Fort Monroe a National Monument.
If it happened this year the first black president of the United States would be honoring a place that played a major part in the dismantling of slavery during the Civil War, 150 years ago.
Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, who is the Fort Monroe Authority's representative on a legislative committee working to bring a park service unit to the historic post, said local legislators have written to the president asking him to make Monroe a national monument.
The letter was written by local U.S. Reps. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News; Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland; Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach; and Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake.
"What is not commonly known is the significance the site has in the history of African Americans," the letter to Obama states.
National monuments are similar to national parks but they can be created by a president without the approval of congress.
"We believe that option is absolutely viable and appropriate given the fact that we're approaching the 150th anniversary of the contraband slave decision and we are examining our country's history in light of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War," Ward said Tuesday.
The advantage of a presidential declaration would be a national monument could be created as soon as this year at Monroe, while a national park could take years to set up.
However, the Fort Monroe Authority is pursuing a twin track approach. It is also working on legislation for Congress to set up a national park.
When Monroe's commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler refused to return three slaves who came to the fortress in 1861, effectively classifying them as "contraband" of war, it changed the course of the Civil War.
Ward believes a national monument would celebrate this legacy as well as the fact the first African Americans to arrive in America landed at the site of the future fort in 1619 en route to Jamestown.
But the National Monument dimension certainly raises new questions. Would it affect the level of resources brought in by the National Park Service and would the footprint of a park be the same as that recently agreen by the Fort Monroe Authority?
The authority backed a park unit presence taking in the stone fort and a small area around it and a large natural area in the north of Fort Monroe.
The letter from the congresssional delagation doesn't address these issues.