As a former chief historian of the National Park Service, I fully embrace the decision to designate a national monument in Beaufort, S.C., under the Antiquities Act of 1906 (“A monument to Reconstruction,” Editorial, Jan. 9). The National Park Service does a fantastic job of interpreting the history of our nation through its historic sites. But there was one glaring gap in the system: There was not one site whose primary focus was on Reconstruction until President Obama designated a national monument to Reconstruction in Beaufort County on Thursday. Reconstruction is among the more important and misunderstood periods in our history. The nation, and especially the former enslaved population, made tremendous progress toward integration into American society and full citizenship only to be thwarted by the conservative reaction that brought on the Jim Crow era.
No group, organization or agency is better equipped to educate the American public about this important period in U.S. history than the National Park Service.
Robert K. Sutton, Bethesda
Yes, we need a Reconstruction national monument to reveal untold American stories “and give rise to new ones,” as the editorial board suggested. Same for the organically linked self-emancipation movement that preceded Reconstruction. Yet its national monument in Virginia, unconscionably bifurcated by land for planned condominiums when established in 2011, remains threatened. Americans misremember emancipation merely as something bestowed by politicians deigning belatedly to free passive slaves. In fact, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. has emphasized, enterprising escapees from slavery catalyzed emancipation once the Civil War erupted.
Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot warned in 2015 that America might well “squander” its premier site for civic memory of self-emancipation: the national monument at Fort Monroe, on the Chesapeake Bay. The National Parks Conservation Association, the Civil War Trust and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) want the spirit-of-place-killing bifurcation fixed. The national media and prominent historians mostly ignore it, but developers don’t.
Steven T. Corneliussen, Poquoson, Va.