A World War II internment camp in Hawaii, an industrial district in Chicago steeped in labor history, and a popular canyon in Colorado will soon be U.S. national monuments, thanks to new designations expected from President Barack Obama on Thursday.
"Together, these monuments will help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans," the White House said in a statement.
Similar to national parks, national monuments preserve areas of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. Congress granted presidents the authority to designate such monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Under the act, past presidents have protected such landmarks as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. With the three new sites, Obama has designated a total of 16 areas as national monuments. (See how the U.S. created the largest protected area in the world.)
Still, some in Congress are not pleased with the president's new designations. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colorado), for instance, said Obama is "acting like King Barack."
A Legacy of World War II Fear
Hawaii's Honouliuli Internment Camp represents a "dark period in our history," Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement. Located near Pearl Harbor in the western part of Oahu, the camp opened in 1943 following an executive order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that authorized the detainment of people with Japanese ancestry, including U.S. citizens, and others deemed potential threats during World War II.
Thousands of Japanese-American men and women, including some 2,300 from Hawaii, were incarcerated during the war. The detained included prominent community and religious leaders, politicians, teachers, journalists, and even veterans of World War I. About 400 of these people—along with German and Italian civilians who had been living in Hawaii—were sent to Honouliuli, where they were housed along with 4,000 prisoners of war.
Honouliuli was the longest-used and largest internment camp and POW site in Hawaii during the war years. The 160-acre camp was hidden from view in a deep gulch that the internees called jigoku dani, or "hell valley."
After Honouliuli's closure following the end of World War II, its location was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in 2002 by a volunteer for the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, which asked the White House to make the new monument.
"On behalf of the Japanese-American internees and their families, I want to thank President Obama for vindicating the honor of those who were incarcerated and for recognizing the historic site as a lesson in injustice and forgiveness for all Americans and for future generations," said the cultural center's president, Carole Hayashino. (See how Obama has protected other historic sites.)
Saving Civil Rights and Labor History
The Pullman historic district on Chicago's South Side will become the first property administered by the National Park Service in that city. The industrial region was founded in 1867 by the Pullman Palace Car Co. as a company town organized around the factory where the famous Pullman railcars were built. The monument is being designated to recognize the labor and civil rights history that unfolded there.
During the 1890s, for instance, the Pullman workforce launched the first industry-wide strike, which had far-reaching implications for the economy and ultimately led to the establishment of Labor Day.
And Pullman cars were the workplace of the first African-American labor organization. Service positions on the cars were mostly staffed by black workers, many of whom had been formerly enslaved. Some of those workers eventually formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that helped lay the foundation for the civil rights movement.
Conserving a Popular Recreation Area
The upper Arkansas River Valley in Colorado, to be named the Browns Canyon National Monument, is marked by rugged cliffs, stunning mountain vistas, and iconic wildlife, such as bald eagles and mountain sheep. The 21,000-acre site near the town of Salida is a popular area for hiking, hunting, fishing, and whitewater rafting.
Locals have been working with lawmakers since the 1990s to gain protection for the area. The president is designating Browns Canyon as a national monument after a request from the state's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, following the failure of a bill to turn the region into a national park. (Learn about a new national monument in New Mexico.)
"Browns Canyon is a national treasure with a long history of bipartisan support in Colorado," Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) said in a statement. He added that he will also introduce legislation soon "to ensure that Colorado's state and local interests have a seat at the table in discussions about Browns Canyon."
Less measured was Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), who said he is "outraged" by the "top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region."