President Obama will designate Chicago’s Pullman Park district, an iconic site in African American and labor history, as a national monument next week, according to White House officials.
The area, which includes nearly 90 percent of the original buildings that rail car magnate George Pullman built a century ago for his factory town, was the birthplace of the nation’s first African American labor union. The president will travel to Chicago Feb. 19 to make the designation in person, said White House spokesman Frank Benenati in an e-mail.
“This national monument designation continues the president’s commitment to protecting places that reflect our nation’s diverse history and creating opportunities for all Americans to access outdoor spaces,” he wrote.
Lynn McClure, Midwest senior director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement the site deserved national recognition.
“The people who are part of the Pullman legacy helped to shape America as we know it today,” Lynn McClure, Midwest senior director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. “Pullman workers fought for fair labor conditions in the late 19th century and the Pullman porters helped advance America’s civil rights movement… Thanks to the president, Pullman’s story will soon be remembered and recounted for the millions of people that visit America’s national parks each year.”
Illinois Republicans and Democrats have pushed for Obama to use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to make it into a national park. The designation will come not only during Black History Month, but shortly before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a Feb. 24 Democratic primary. Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, has been an outspoken proponent of the national monument designation.
On Sept. 30, four Illinois Republicans — Sen. Mark Kirk and Reps. Rodney Davis, Aaron Schock and Adam Kinzinger — sent Obama a letter urging him to declare it a national park. Not only did the railroad strike of 1894 lead to greater rights for workers, the lawmakers wrote, but the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — America’s first African American union — also “helped build the black middle class and laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century.”
Stephanie Meeks, president and chief executive officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the place “has played an outsize role in several key chapters of our nation’s history,” and said her group would work with the National Park Service and others “to ensure the future success of Pullman.”
Chicago is one of the only major cities in the U.S. that does not have a national park.
The president has used his executive power before to commemorate African American history on federal land. During his first term, he created national monuments at Fort Monroe, a Hampton, Va., community that served as a safe haven for former slaves during the Civil War. In 2013 he established five more, including one honoring Harriet Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers in Ohio.
According to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress on the country’s 461 national parks and monuments, 26 center on the black community, 19 on Latinos, eight on women and two on Asian Americans.
There is one national historic landmark commemorating gay rights: New York City’s Stonewall. In May 2013 Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a theme study to examine what other LGBT sites might be honored