With just more than a week left in office, President Barack Obama established a national monument to the reconstruction era with sites in in St. Helena Island, Beaufort and Port Royal, South Carolina, on Thursday.
The president’s official statement on the Reconstruction Era National Monument was packaged with an announcement of a civil rights movement monument in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the expansion of national monuments celebrating the California coast and the a wildlife habitat in the Oregon and California mountains.
"These monuments preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom," the president said in an official statement. "They tell the important stories of the citizens who helped launch the civil rights movement in Birmingham and the Freedom Riders whose bravery raised national awareness of segregation and violence. These stories are part of our shared history."
Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., a longtime advocate of the Reconstruction monument, quickly issued his own statement, both thanking the President and addressing the importance of the remembering the Reconstruction era, from January 1, 1863 to March 31, 1877.
"For a long time, this period of history has been ignored and is often misunderstood or misrepresented," he said in his statement. " Beginning January 1, 1863 and continuing until March 31, 1877, newly freed slaves were guaranteed civil rights by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution. They bought property, founded communities, built schools and organized churches, and were elected to political offices."
Clyburn said that the era "had some of its earliest and most significant impact in Beaufort County." He noted that the monument’s interpretive center will be in Darrah Hall, the oldest building on Penn Center’s campus, and will also include the Brick Baptist Church, "built in 1855 by slaves who were relegated to its balcony out of the sight and presence of white worshipers."
In addition, the monument will include the old firehouse in Beaufort and, after negotiations with the Navy are complete, the Camp Saxton Site in Port Royal. Clyburn said that there "on January 1, 1863, Union General Rufus Saxton assembled 3,000 slaves from the surrounding Sea Islands to read the Emancipation Proclamation, the first such reading in the South."
He added that there are hopes of expanding the monument over time.