What is a “national monument” established by the President?A “national monument” established by the President protects “objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government” (54 U.S.C. § 320301, known as the Antiquities Act). If the national monument is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), as many national monuments are, it is subject to the same laws and policies as govern other units of the National Park System. Thus, an NPS national monument established by the President is a protected area similar to a national park, administered for the protection and enjoyment of its resources and values.
How does an area become a national monument?To be established by the President, the area must meet the criteria of the Antiquities Act (54 U.S.C § 320301), including having objects of historic or scientific interest located on land already owned or controlled by the Federal government. The views of the public are carefully considered in the process. National monuments can also be created by Congress under their own enabling statutes, rather than the Antiquities Act. National monuments can be administered by Federal agencies other than NPS. The Presidential proclamation or Congressionally-enacted statute creating the national monument typically indicates which Federal agency will administer it.
What constitutes the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument?The Gaston Motel, located in downtown Birmingham, encompasses an approximately one-acre parcel. The City donated property interests in the Gaston Motel to the National Park Service for the establishment of the monument. These donated property interests include a fee simple interest in the original 1954 wing to the motel (approximately 0.23 acres), including the suite where Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy stayed in the spring of 1963, and a preservation and conservation easement in the remaining parts of the motel (approximately 0.65 acres). The City retains fee ownership of those remaining parts of the motel, subject to the NPS easement. NPS and the City intend to cooperate in the management and operation of the Gaston Motel
The boundary for the monument includes a number of other historic properties that are part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Register Historic District. These properties are significant with regard to the civil rights organizing and protests that occurred in downtown Birmingham between 1956 and 1963. Significant contributing sites within the boundary include Kelly Ingram Park, 16th Street Baptist Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and portions of the 4th Avenue Historic District. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, located in a non-historic building, is also within the boundary, and is a potential partner in research and interpretation associated with the monument. NPS does not have a property interest in these City-owned or privately-owned buildings, nor does NPS law or regulations affect these non-NPS properties within the boundary. Their inclusion in the boundary will facilitate cooperation and partnerships in managing and interpreting the Birmingham civil rights properties, and allow opportunities over time for acquisition of additional lands or interests in lands for the monument from willing sellers or donors.
Is Bethel Baptist Church (associated with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights) included in the boundary of the national monument?The Bethel Baptist Church, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005, is an important part of the Birmingham civil rights story. It is located six miles from the A.G. Gaston Motel and the other historic properties in downtown Birmingham. Although not included in the monument boundary, Bethel Baptist Church is a key part of the Birmingham civil rights story. The Church is mentioned in the proclamation establishing the monument, laying the basis for partnership and interpretation, and possibly subsequent action by the President or Congress to include it in a park unit boundary if circumstances allow.
What happens now that the area has been designated a national monument?The National Park Service is beginning to work on the development of a management plan, to ensure that the new national monument preserves the site’s resources and provides for an outstanding visitor experience. The National Park Service’s planning for the new park will be done with full public involvement and in coordination with the City of Birmingham and other stakeholders. Open houses and public meetings will be held to discuss the management plan and invite the public to share ideas for the future of the monument.
Is there a plan for restoring or reconstructing the A.G. Gaston Motel?The City of Birmingham has developed a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the Gaston Motel. The initial construction and use of the motel occurred over a period from 1954 to 1968. The current redevelopment proposal includes exterior restoration of the original 1954 Motel, including the 1955 expansion of the restaurant, to its appearance in 1963. A portion of the original 1954 motel (e.g., master suite, hotel lobby, select rooms) would also undergo interior reconstruction to include period furnishings from 1963. These areas would be the focus for interpretive purposes. The exterior and interior of the remainder of the 1968 motel additions would be rehabilitated for adaptive reuse in accordance with different options being considered by the City of Birmingham. Details as to the history and treatment and use of the Gaston Motel have been documented in a Historic Structure Report (HSR) prepared in November 2016. Cooperative management of the Gaston Motel would be consistent with the HSR.
Would the City of Birmingham and NPS work in partnership on the preservation and management of the Gaston Motel property?The City of Birmingham and NPS share the common vision and goal that the parcels comprising the Gaston Motel shall be managed and operated in cooperation so as to ensure that members of the public visiting the site will experience the preserved resource in a seamless fashion. Accordingly, both the City and NPS will cooperatively manage and operate the Gaston Motel so that the public will experience the park as reflective as possible of a motel of the era and type that it was from 1954 to 1968. It is anticipated that the interpretive footprint would include significant portions of the original 1954 motel, including the master suite and other rooms actually used by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, courtyard, hotel lobby and office, and restaurant. This approach would allow NPS to interpret the interrelated private and public spaces of the motel’s civil rights and community organizing story as they relate to the period of significance.
The Gaston Motel occupies a site immediately adjacent to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and within easy walking distance of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the 4th Avenue Historic District, all of which are part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Register District listed in the National Register.