Pres. Obama signs designates Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

Published: Jan. 12, 2017 at 8:40 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2017 at 1:08 AM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - President Barack Obama has signed a presidential proclamation designating the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

The move makes Birmingham's Civil Rights District part of the National Park System.

The City of Birmingham and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, a Birmingham Democrat, led efforts to secure the designation.

Mayor William Bell and activists from Birmingham's civil rights era gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church to celebrate the announcement.

It caps years of work to include some of Birmingham's most historic sites in the park system.

Receiving the designation is expected to attract more tourists. In addition, the city has transferred a portion of the A.G. Gaston Motel to the National Park Service, required for such designations. The district maintains its autonomy and normal, everyday function, but receives technical and maintenance assistance, marketing and assistance from park rangers.

Mayor Bell has previously said the historic monument designation will provide opportunities for federal and private grants to encourage investment and development in the areas surrounding the civil rights district, including the historic 4th Avenue Business District.

Earlier Thursday, the National Park Service announced funding for 39 projects in more than 20 states to preserve sites related to the civil rights movement.

The 16th Street Baptist Church was granted $500,000 for "preservation, repair and restoration."

The City of Anniston received nearly half a million dollars for a Freedom Riders National Monument.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will receive $47,000 for "Preservation Leadership Training at the Gaston Motel."

Sewell released the following statement about the announcement:

Today, Birmingham takes its rightful place as the epicenter of the fight for Civil Rights in America. President Obama in signing the executive order creates a national monument that incorporates the sites of Birmingham's Civil Rights District into the National Park System ensuring its preservation for future generations. I was honored to introduce HR 4817, the bi-partisan legislation, that made the legislative case for creating the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. It is such a great tribute to the people of the City of Birmingham that President Obama would make this designation as one of his last actions before leaving the White House.

From the special role that the A.G. Gaston Motel played in hosting the leaders of the movement, to the children's march in Kelly Ingram Park, to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, the legacy of the pivotal events that occurred in Birmingham has earned our City a special place in American history as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. President Obama's executive order will ensure that the fight for equal rights in the City of Birmingham will forever be cemented in the annals of our democracy.

The National Monument designation will also provide an economic boost in tourism and spur economic development in Birmingham and the State of Alabama. This effort has enjoyed strong support from local and national stakeholders including Mayor William Bell, the Birmingham City Council, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks Conservation Association, as well as supporters from across this nation. Today, we all share in this tremendous victory.

Governor Robert Bentley released this statement about the designation:

In Alabama, we don't hide from our history or the events of the past; we reflect on those events and use them as guidance for a successful future. These new national monuments in Birmingham and Anniston, designated by President Obama, will help teach Alabamians, future generations and the rest of the world the important lessons learned during the Civil Rights Movement," Governor Bentley said. "The new monuments will tell important stories of the Freedom Riders, the fatal bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963 and so many more untold accounts of the brave men and women who fought inequality to bring about needed change. I want to thank all the dedicated men and women and local elected officials involved in making the national monuments possible and ensuring the legacy of all those involved in the Civil Rights movement is not forgotten.

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