Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., were designated on Thursday as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument by President Barack Obama in one of his last official acts as U.S. leader. This church is where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement. He also deemed two other new national monuments: Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina.
"Our Church, in the South, is seen as an iconic symbol of freedom and justice, just like the Liberty Bell is seen as a freedom symbol in Philadelphia. Given the tragedies that took place here, people come here to reflect on the sacrifice and service of those who put their lives on the line," said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church.
"16th Street stands as a symbol to those who galvanized a generation, motivated a movement, and turned the bitter days of Birmingham in better days. The designation has done a tremendous tribute to the city of Birmingham, and a tribute to the people who worked for Civil Rights in the '60s. Birmingham has a story to tell about the fight in Civil Rights. This national monument will fortify Birmingham's place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history."
The designation also protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned water hoses and dogs on civil rights' protesters, reports Religion News Service.
Altogether, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument honors Birmingham for being the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement in 1963, reports Creation Justice Ministries. The Birmingham monument also includes Bethel Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the 4th Avenue Business District, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and the Colored Masonic Temple.
Obama released a Presidential Memorandum on diversity and inclusion in the U.S. public lands system, too.
These areas set-aside "preserve critical chapters of our country's history, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement," said Obama.
The designations mean the sites will receive permanent protection from Congress under the federal Antiquities Act. They will be managed by the National Park Service or another federal agency, reports USA Today.
"These monuments preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom," Obama said. "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. From designating Stonewall National Monument, our country's first national monument honoring the LGBT movement, to recognizing the movement for women's equality through the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, I have sought to build a more inclusive National Park System and ensure that our national parks, monuments and public lands are fully reflective of our nation's diverse history and culture. "
"I am grateful President Obama is recognizing and seeking to honor the honor the saints and martyrs of the Civil Rights movement by establishing these new National Monuments in Alabama," said Rev. John Mobley, Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Alabama and Northwest Florida. "Our continuing effort to seek justice and equality for all demands that we remember the legacy of those upon whose shoulders we stand. Not only are they worthy of our deepest gratitude, but also our strongest commitment to the goal of living as 'one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.'"
"These newly declared national monuments will enter the stories of resilience, courage, and faith into our country's collective memory for generations to come. President Obama has ensured our African American heritage, too, is officially recognized as part of our national identity," said Rev. Thomas Bowen, Earl L. Harrison Minister of Social Justice, Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington DC & Progressive National Baptist Convention.