A few years back, Xenia was privileged to play a role in honoring an African American hero, Colonel Charles Young, by supporting the permanent protection of his home as the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in neighboring Wilberforce.
Colonel Young, I dare say, is as much a part of America’s glorious history as others we continually read and hear about. He was a “first” in so many meaningful ways. Born a slave, he was the first African American to reach the rank of colonel in the United States Army, the first black national park superintendent, the first African American military attaché, and the highest ranking black officer in the U.S. Army until his death in 1922. He was also a professor of military science at Wilberforce University. It was unfortunately racial discrimination that prevented him from rising to the rank of brigadier general, and he was subsequently forced into retirement.
One reason we supported a national monument next door, in addition to the historic significance, is the economic benefits that come from increased tourism and the local jobs created in communities near public lands. Recent research on cities and towns near national monuments shows that all of the areas studied grew after the creation of a national monument. National monuments also provide educational opportunities for children and adults alike that might not have been available otherwise.
President Obama wisely used the Antiquities Act many times to proclaim other national monuments that further promote diversity in the protected public lands that tell America’s story: most recently in his final month in office he established the Freedom Riders and Birmingham Civil Rights National Monuments in Alabama, highlighting significant events of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, and Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina, site of one of the first schools for freed slaves.
To further ensure a policy of diversity and inclusion in our public lands, he finished his term with a Presidential Memorandum requiring that federal agencies responsible for managing public lands have to make them more accessible and ensure people from all different walks of life are engaged in shaping future public lands policies.
But, despite the fact that President Obama built an impressive record of protecting civil rights places, it remains a fact that less than 15-percent of units in our National Park System reflect the contributions of all minorities, including women.
Therefore, it is quite upsetting that certain elected officials are now vehemently opposing the use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. And more than that, they are advocating for President Trump to undo monuments that have already been created.
Our new Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, will soon visit Bears Ears National Monument, a special place set aside by President Obama, held sacred by several Native American tribes in the area and containing tens of thousands of ancestral artifacts that are clues to an American history of long ago. Mr. Zinke is ostensibly there to make an assessment for our new president, perhaps with those few opposing officials a strong voice in his ear. What a waste it would be to reverse years of tireless efforts that have begun to build a more inclusive system of parks and monuments that tell our full American story.
It is imperative that the new administration continue to protect places, via national monument designation, that tell the full American story. America’s stories connect the old with the new; not to protect them is to destroy a valuable link to our past. As our new secretary of the Interior, it is Mr. Zinke's job to protect them. We will rely on him to support the protected public lands designated by President Obama, and moreover support the continuing use of the Antiquities Act.
In today’s divided America, we clearly need to have the whole of America’s diverse story received by the fullest spectrum of Americans possible.
Marsha J. Bayless is mayor of Xenia, Ohio.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.