WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is designating three new national monuments for protection as historic or ecologically significant sites, including the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago where African-American railroad workers won a historic labor agreement.
The White House said Obama will be in his hometown Thursday to announce the Pullman National Monument.
The neighborhood on the city’s South Side was built by industrialist George Pullman in the 19th century for workers to manufacture luxurious railroad sleeping cars. The neighborhood was crucial in the African-American labor movement.
Obama also is expected to announce designation of Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii, the site of an internment camp where Japanese-American citizens and prisoners of war were held during World War II; as well as Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado, a 21,000-acre site along the Arkansas River popular for whitewater rafting.
The White House said the three new monuments “help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans.”
The three sites will bring to 16 the number of national monuments Obama has created under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which grants presidents broad authority to protect historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval.
Some Republicans have complained that Obama has abused his authority, and they renewed their complaints over the new designations, especially the Colorado site, the largest in size by far among the three new monuments.
Obama should “cut it out,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. “He is not king. No more acting like King Barack.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said he was outraged by what he called “a top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region” in central Colorado, about 140 miles southwest of Denver.
Designating Browns Canyon as a national monument could have a devastating effect on grazing rights and water rights in the area, Lamborn said.
The 203-acre Pullman site includes factories and buildings associated with the Pullman Palace Car Company, which was founded in 1867 and employed thousands of workers to construct and provide service on railroad cars. While the company employed a mostly white workforce to manufacture railroad passenger cars, it also hired former slaves to serve as porters, waiters and maids on its iconic sleeping cars.
The railroad industry — and Pullman in particular — was one of the largest employers of African-Americans in the United States by the early 1900s. Pullman workers played a major role in the rise of the black middle class and, through a historic labor agreement won by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, they helped launch the civil rights movement of the 20th Century, the White House said.
The president’s visit falls days before the city’s mayoral election, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seeking a second term. Emanuel is a former White House chief of staff under Obama.
Illinois’ two senators, Democrat Richard Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk, hailed the Pullman designation.
“As Chicago’s first national park, Pullman’s 135 years of civil rights and industrial history will be protected and enjoyed for generations to come,” Kirk said in a statement. “This new national park will breathe new economic life into this community, bringing up to 30,000 visitors and more than $40 million each year.”
Outdoors and wildlife groups hailed the Browns Canyon designation, which they said would allow future generations to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, world-class whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper asked Obama to designate Browns Canyon as a monument after efforts by Bennet and former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall to protect the land failed in Congress.
“Coloradans have been very clear they wanted this protection, along with assurances that existing uses will be protected. We’re glad the administration heard those voices and provided those assurances,” Bennet said in a statement.
Bill Dvorak, who has owned a rafting and fishing outfitting business in the area along the Arkansas River since 1984, said presidential action is the most practical way to protect people’s right to boat, fish, hunt and hike in the area.
“With the current Congress, it seems like nothing gets done,” Dvorak said.