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Are Our New National Monuments Used to Engage Special Interest Groups?

"Gay Liberation" sculpture at the new Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village, by George Segal.

"Gay Liberation" sculpture at the new Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village, by George Segal.

The President Can Proclaim National Monuments

During his presidency, Obama creates new national monuments honoring causes such as gay rights, labor movements, civil rights, and others. Critics say he catered to special interest groups to gain votes for the Democratic party while supporters are adamant he was protecting places that played an important role in American history. Could this be true?

President Obama had the authority to establish national monuments with no Congressional approval needed under the Antiquities Act, which came into law in 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt was president. At that time, there was much concern about saving Indian artifacts in the western U.S. from the harmful impact of nature and scavengers wanting to find and sell them.

President Roosevelt proclaimed the first national monument, Devils Tower, in Wyoming. Since his administration, over 100 national monuments, which are managed by the National Park Service, have been created to protect sites of natural, scientific, and cultural importance.

Controversial National Monuments Proclaimed by President Obama

During his administration, President Obama created several national monuments including the following which have stirred controversy:

Stonewall National Monument

The Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village in New York City recognizes the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) movement. An event that happened in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn (a gay bar) and across the street at Christopher Park is recognized as a turning point in the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights. The National Parks Conservation Association worked for over two years to identify a site for an LGBTQ monument prior to selecting Stonewall.

Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country — the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us

— President Obama

Cesar Chavez National Monument

The Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, California on the property known as "La Paz," pays tribute to the Latino labor leader and head of the Farm Worker Movement during the 1960s and 1970s.

Located at La Paz is the headquarters for the Farm Worker Movement and the home of Cesar Chavez. His grave site is located there in a memorial garden, and a visitor center with information about the struggles of Chavez and the movement will be constructed in the future.

Cesar Chavez gave a voice to poor and disenfranchised workers everywhere. La Paz was at the center of some of the most significant civil rights moments in our nation’s history, and by designating it a national monument, Chavez’ legacy will be preserved and shared to inspire generations to come.

— President Obama

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

After being born into slavery in 1864 in Kentucky, Charles Young became the 3rd black man to graduate from West Point and climb the military ranks to the position of Colonel in the famed Buffalo Soldiers. He fought discrimination in the racially tense military and achieved the distinction of being the highest-ranking African American officer in the Army prior to his death in 1922.

The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument features Colonel Young's home in Wilberforce, Ohio, and educates visitors about the struggles he faced during his military career and the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument

The building which housed the National Women's Party (NWP) for over 90 years is the new Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Washington, DC. The monument salutes the suffragist leader, Alice Paul, and the fight by the NWP to give women the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920.

Belmont-Paul National Monument

Belmont-Paul National Monument

The political strategies and tactics of Alice Paul and the NWP became a blueprint for civil rights organizations and activities throughout the 20th century.

— President Obama

Are These National Monuments Political Maneuvers?

Since the inception of the Antiquities Act in 1906, it has been used by 16 presidents to protect unique natural and historic places in America. President Obama has the distinction of using the Act more than any other president. This has led to questions about his motives. He has proclaimed several national monuments that are criticized as being a means to gain votes from special interest groups for the Democratic party. The monuments mentioned here are victims of that finger-pointing.

Part of the dissension comes from Congress, which is responsible for coming up with the funds for the National Park Service to preserve and maintain these monuments. Some Congressmen feel they are established by the president as political favors.

Are President Obama's intentions purely political or is he following the creed of the National Park Service to provide all Americans with a national park experience that is relevant to them?

Recent Presidents Who Have Used the Antiquities Act

President/Political Party# of Proclamations

Nixon - Republican


Ford - Republican


Carter - Democrat


Reagan - Republican


G.H.W. Bush - Republican


Bill Clinton - Democrat


George W. Bush - Republican


Barack Obama - Democrat


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Thelma Raker Coffone