As a leader in the African American faith community, I celebrated with our neighbors in Chicago on the designation of the Pullman neighborhood as a national monument. I also celebrated with folks in Alabama and South Carolina on the designation of three Civil Rights National Monuments.
I did not celebrate the Trump Administration Executive Order that called for several monuments — including Bears Ears honoring Native American heritage in Utah — to be shrunk in size. In fact, I believe that any reductions to national monument designations are an affront to the work so many of us have done to preserve the heritage of all Americans.
In Wisconsin, we value not only our cultural heritage but also our public lands. We are a state that understands the importance of conserving God’s creation and caring for our neighbor.
The sites in Chicago, Alabama and South Carolina help tell the important story of the African American community. For instance, the Pullman monument site commemorates the birth of one of the first African American labor unions, which helped spark the emergence of the black middle class. Other national monuments tell the critical stories and journeys of other communities. Bears Ears national monument is an important cultural and spiritual site for Native Americans.
In total, there are about 150 national monuments, all created by a President under the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act was the first law to establish that public lands are critical to American heritage. It obligates federal agencies that manage the public lands to preserve for present and future generations the historic, scientific, commemorative, and cultural values of the archaeological and historic sites and structures on these lands.
It also authorizes the President to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as national monuments.
Since 1906, 16 American Presidents (8 Republicans and 8 Democrats) have designated national monuments under the Antiquities Act so that future generations can experience our nation’s open spaces, historic sites, and cultural treasures. Experience has demonstrated the wisdom of giving presidents this authority – nearly half of America’s national parks were originally protected by the Antiquities Act, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
I view the Antiquities Act as an important tool in protecting the special places of God’s creation. Not only places like the Grand Canyon, but places that preserve important national heritage like Pullman and Bears Ears. Our responsibility to care for creation is coupled with our duty to preserve the stories of all Americans.
From state forests that serve as a backyard playground, to iconic national parks that play host to memorable family vacations, our nation’s public lands, national parks and national monuments are beloved embodiments of God’s power and love. I would like to see President Trump preserve more special places instead of rescinding existing designations.
I call on Speaker Paul Ryan and our Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin to ensure that the Antiquities Act is kept intact so that we can not only save pieces of African American history, but continue to faithfully tell the stories of all Americans.