Fort Monroe: This Virginia gem could become our newest national monument

Fort Monroe in Virginia could be one of the next additions to our National Monument system. Whether it receives that honor still rests in the hands of President Obama--and those willing to stand up and urge protections. Thankfully it appears Virginians are ready to take the task on with vigor.

Despite the heat wave hitting the East Coast, more than 700 people came out June 19 to two town hall meetings in Hampton, Virginia to talk about the future of Fort Monroe, one of the lesser known and most important places in American history.

This star-shaped fort played a unique role in the beginning and end of slavery in the U.S.. In the 1600’s, this was the landing site of the first slave ships to America. 200 years later, during the Civil War, this same place bore witness to a Union general refusing to return three enslaved men back to the South. This unprecedented move led the fort to become a refugee camp for freedom seekers and laid the groundwork for President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It sits on the coast of the town of Hampton, Virginia, a local treasure to residents of the area.

On September 15th, the U.S. Army will leave Fort Monroe. The question is what will happen to this important place?

The site has access to Virginia’s shoreline and is an amazing part of our history. The Mayor of Hampton Roads, VA, Mayor Molly Ward spoke at the town hall to declare, “I hope you will use your executive powers, [Mr. President] on this 150th anniversary of the Civil War to declare Fort Monroe a National Monument so that we may come face to face with the tragedy and the hope, the endurance and the courage that are such essentials parts of American history.”

As Americans, we need to ensure that this important place is preserved for future generations to experience. We can do this by asking President Obama to designate this land a National Monument using the Antiquities Act.

Over and over again, citizens stood up at both town hall meetings and shared their experiences at Fort Monroe.  With strong conviction, countless speakers requested that Fort Monroe be protected as quickly as possible..

To those of us in attendance at the public meetings, two things over the course of the day became abundantly clear:

One, there was no one opposed to Fort Monroe being protected as a National Park or National Monument. In an extraordinary show of local support, not one speaker over the two meetings of more than 700 people spoke out in opposition for Fort Monroe’s protection.

Two, it was clear that Fort Monroe was an intensely personal and emotional place for the residents of Hampton and its neighboring communities. Hampton’s residents told stories of visiting the fort during childhood field trips and expressed their desire to share the place with their future children and grandchildren. Even children spoke up in front of over 500 people to voice their support for Fort Monroe. They were concerned that they would lose access to this incredible historic treasure.

When we left the public meetings at the end of the day, there was a tangible feeling of awe- we had just witnessed a town lend its collective voice to the protection of an amazing local and national treasure.

Fort Monroe is too important to lose. President Obama should protect Fort Monroe as a National Monument.