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Public's chance to support fort
The National Park Service and the Obama administration are clearly interested in the future of Fort Monroe. It's time for the residents of Hampton Roads - and the rest of the nation - to tell them just how interested they should be.
Today, the park service will host two meetings - from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. - at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton to hear what the public would like to see happen at the fort when the Army departs in two months.
After several years of debate, a consensus has emerged among citizens in our region and among America's most respected historians: Turn all 565 acres of Fort Monroe, whose history spans four centuries, into a national park.
Today's meetings - and follow-up messages to the park service and administration officials - are opportunities to drive home that point. (In addition to today's sessions, the agency is also accepting comments at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/fortmonroe and via email to email@example.com through July 26.)
A bill has been introduced in Congress to convert the fort into a national park, with the state retaining oversight of a portion of the property. A proposal, modeled after the Presidio in San Francisco, calls for leasing existing historic buildings at the fort and allowing low-intensity development that would complement the park.
But the swiftest and most reliable route to securing the future of the fort would be for President Barack Obama to invoke the Antiquities Act and declare the property a national monument. Other presidents have used the act to preserve national treasures such as the Grand Canyon and Ellis Island.
A strong show of support this week would reinforce the message that many residents of our region have been sending to the White House: Act now.
There are numerous stories to tell about Fort Monroe's place in U.S. history, but the most compelling is the role it played in both the beginning and the end of slavery.
The first ship carrying African slaves to the Virginia colony landed at what was then known as Old Point Comfort in 1619. More than two centuries later, near the start of the Civil War, three slaves sought - and found - refuge at the Union-held fort, touching off an exodus that helped shape the Emancipation Proclamation.
It's this story that needs to be brought to a national and international audience.
Last week, officials in Fredericksburg announced plans to sell the land that was to be home of the long-stalled National Slavery Museum. Fundraising efforts for the project have faltered, and the group behind it owes more than $215,000 in back taxes.
The story of enslavement - and slave-initiated emancipation - would be better told at Fort Monroe, and it could be better told by the National Park Service. But, first, residents of our region and beyond need to speak up and ensure the fort, Freedom's Fortress, is preserved.