Written by Monica Rhodes
A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a public meeting convened by the National Park Service for Virginia's Fort Monroe. The two sessions were held in the Hampton Convention Center and both were well attended. The crowd was as diverse as the individuals who worked diligently to get the project to this point. It is also worth noting that there were a total of 800 people in both meetings and a unanimous vote of “yes” for the designation of Fort Monroe as a National Monument.
The local supporters included the Contraband Historical Society, the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, and churches intimately connected to the history of the fort. National organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and the Sierra Club attended to show their support as well. While these organizations have diverse missions, one thing is clear: Fort Monroe provides a relevant and preservation-worthy connection to the past.
Seizing the chance to preserve a place with a multilayered history, such as Fort Monroe, is an excellent opportunity to distinguish the city of Hampton, the state of Virginia, and the United States as a nation. Fort Monroe served as the place where the institution of enslavement - which dominated American life from 1619 until 1865 – began, and where African Americans were determined it would end.
Constructed in 1819 as a seacoast fortification, Fort Monroe is not only historically important for its tactical military position, but also for its socio-historical connections to all Americans. In 1861 during the American Civil War, the fort served as a “Freedom’s Fortress” for enslaved African Americans fleeing to protection behind Union lines. This place matters!
Establishing Fort Monroe as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act is necessary to preserve and protect the site. With the President’s signature, Fort Monroe can be protected for the future owners of the national parks. National Monument status would protect and conserve the natural, cultural, and historical features of the site.
It is my understanding that the state of Virginia will work with the National Park Service to co-manage the 565-acre island. This partnership will not only encourage local and national oversight and stewardship, but also benefit from the expertise of Hampton University to interpret the story of self-emancipation for 500,000 African Americans.
Special thanks go to National Trust Advisors Dreck Wilson and Lacy Ward, and the rest of the speakers who shared their thoughts on Fort Monroe at this public meeting.
In the words echoed by many supporters at the public meeting, “Let’s Get It Done!”
Join me and demonstrate your commitment to establishing Fort Monroe as a National Monument. Please sign the letter of support to encourage President Obama to utilize the power of the Antiquities Act to create his first National Monument.
Monica Rhodes is a graduate student in Historic Preservation at The University of Pennsylvania and an intern in the Southern Field Office.