Fort Monroe Becomes a National Monument

I can’t think of a better example of the dramatic shift that has taken place in recent years in our understanding of slavery’s central place in our collective memory of the Civil War.

Fort Monroe offers the National Park Service a unique opportunity to think carefully about how they are going to establish a relationship with the surrounding communities, including Hampton.  As I learned in my study of the Crater it has not always been easy for the National Park Service to break down barriers, specifically within the black community.  I hope the NPS places this high on its list of priorities when it begins the process of staffing the facility.  The best way to begin this process is to work closely with area public schools as well as Hampton University, which has a rich history of its own going back to the Civil War era.  Get the kids involved from the beginning and give them a stake in how the site is interpreted.

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2 comments… add one
  • Timothy Orr Nov 3, 2011 @ 10:31

    This is a stunning victory in regards to Civil War preservation. It should be applauded far and wide by the people of Hampton Roads and by battlefield enthusiasts. I agree with you, Kevin: Fort Monroe ought to receive top priority. Not only did it witness the first signs of the wartime collapse of slavery, but it served as a logistical lynchpin of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, it overlooked the Battle of Hampton Roads, it served as the base of operations for the Union invasion and occupation of Norfolk, it supported the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, it housed inmate Jefferson Davis during his postwar incarceration, it supported an artillery training school for the US Army, and it served prominently in World War II as part of America’s Atlantic seacoast defense perimeter. Fewer sites in Virginia crosscut as many important eras and as many significant themes as Fort Monroe. It may be some years yet until it changes from a “National Monument” to a “National Park,” but one can only image the legion of interpretive possibilities attached to this one site. It would be ideal if it could come before the end of the Civil War’s 150th commemoration.

    • Michael Douglas Nov 3, 2011 @ 13:22

      It seems that the slavery connection had a bit of a coming-full-circle element as well since this place is also where the first African slaves were brought into what would become America.

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