Tag Archives: Birmingham Civil Rights

April 2017 New Stamps from Puerto Rico to the Arctic Circle and Places In-Between

San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico has one brand-new stamp this month and one replacement stamp.

Here are the new stamps for the month of April:

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument | Birmingham, AL

Freedom Riders National Monument | Anniston, AL

Reconstruction Era National Monument | Beaufort, SC

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park | Auburn, NY

Antietam National Battlefield | Pry House Field Hospital Museum

Noatak National Preserve | Bettles, AK

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park | Outdoor Recreation Information Center

Gulf Islands National Seashore |

      • Advanced Redoubt
      • Okaloosa Area

San Juan National Historic Site |

      • Castillo San Felipe del Morro
      • San Antonio Guardhouse, El Morro

Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area |

      • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
      • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
      • Lincoln Depot
      • Lincoln Law Office
      • Lincoln Tomb
      • Old State Capitol
      • Springfield, IL
      • Carthage, IL
      • Clinton, IL
      • Homer, IL
      • Mahomet, IL
      • Quincy, IL
      • Vandalia, IL
The Pry House at Antietam National Battlefield has an updated cancellation this month. Photo credit: National Park Service

Most notable this month are stamps for four new additions to the National Park System, which recently brought the total number of Nationa Park Units up to a total of 417.  Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Freedom Riders National Monument, and Reconstruction Era National Monument were all added in January by way of declarations made by President Obama under the Antiquities Act.  Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Upstate New York (not to be confused with Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in southern Maryland)  was added following land acquisition that was authorized the 2015 Defense Authorization Act.  I recently wrote about the important history behind the first two civil rights-related national monuments.  Reconstruction Era National Monument preserves four properties associated the building of post-slavery lives for African-Americans in the South.  Union forces captured the area around Beaufort, South Carolina in 1861, in the early days of the Civil War, so in many respects, this part of South Carolina is where the Reconstruction Era began.  Some of the places in the new national monument include areas where reconstruction was being implemented, even as the Civil War raged around them.  This includes sites associated with old Camp Sherman, where a regiment of African-American troops for the Union Army was recruited.

The Pry House served as General McClellan’s headquarters at Antietam National Battlefield.  Although it is within the Park boundaries, it is operated in partnership with the National Park Service as an outpost of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and has several exhibits on how medical needs were handled during the battle.  This site previously had an official stamp from 2006 to 2011 – the new stamp replaces an unofficial stamp that the site had been using for the last five years.

The Ranger Station in Bettles, Alaska is one of the most-remote corners of the National Park System. Photo credit: Bruce Johnson, 2007

There are two new additions in the Pacific Northwest this month.  The remote village of Bettles in northern Alaska is most-famously a gateway community for Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.  A second stamp is added this month at the joint National Park Service – US Fish and Wildlife Service Ranger Station in the village for adventurers taking a longer flight to the remote rivers located in Noatak National Preserve.   In testament to the size of Alaska, Bettles is itself some 600 miles (a 14.5 hour drive according to Google Maps) from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.   Even so, it is approximately another 150 miles as the bush plane flies to get to Noatak National Preserve from Bettles, a remote national park with no on-site visitor facilities whatsoever.

In Seattle, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has added a stamp for the inter-agency information station at the REI Flagship Store in Seattle, which provides information about parks and other public lands throughout western Washington.

Gulf Islands National Seashore has added two stamps for the Florida section of the park.  The Okaloosa Area is the easternmost section of the National Seashore, located just east of the town of Fort Walton Beach, and preserves the beaches on the barrier island.  The Advanced Redoubt is located in the Fort Barrancas Unit of the Park, on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  The Advanced Redoubt and Fort Barrancas were both built in the mid-19th Century to protect the Pensacola Navy Yard.

The San Antonio Guardhouse, located in the foreground (with El Morro in the background) is a new cancellation location this month for San Juan National Historic Site.  Photo from 2011

San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico is comprised of two old Spanish fortifications, the Castillo San Marcos and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  The latter received a new stamp this month, replacing an older stamp that referred to the location by its nickname, “El Morro.”   There is also a brand new stamp this month for the San Antonio Guardhouse, which is located just outside the fortifications of El Morro. This gives the site three total Passport locations.

Finally, the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area has added to the 15 stamps it introduced in January of this year.  The additions this month include 7 additional Lincoln sites in and around Springfield, Illinois, which join the long-standing cancellation for this Heritage Area at Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which is also in Springfield.

The other additions this month appear to primarily have local connections or secondary interest to the life of Abraham Lincoln.  The two most notable are the additions for Mahomet, Illinois and Vandalia, Illinois. The Museum of the Grand Prairie is operated by Champaign County in Mahomet. Lincoln visited the area in and around Mahomet during his time as a lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit and the museum includes exhibits on this stage of Lincoln’s life.  The Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site preserves the old state capitol in Vandalia, Illinois where Lincoln worked as a state legislator from his election in 1834 up until the capitol being moved in 1839.  The stamps for Carthage, IllinoisClinton, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois  are each at local historical society museums.    The stamp for Homer, Illinois is at the local nature center.

Together with the existing stamps for this heritage area, there are now 29 stamps for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area located across central Illinois.  Prior to 2015 there were just 17 on-location* stamps in the entire state of Illinois, including a single stamp for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, one for the Chicago Portage National Historic Site Affiliated Area, two for the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail,  10 for the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, and 3 for the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (including one for the Heritage Area and one for the Underground Railroad Freedom Network, both located at the main visitor center on the site).  2015 brought the addition for three more stamps for the brand-new Pullman National Monument in Chicago.  Now the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area has single-handedly more the doubled the statewide cancellation total for the state of Illinois, with now at least 50 stamps being available in that state. That will be enough to keep Passport enthusiasts from the Midwest busy for quite a while, and is continued testament to how National Heritage Areas have really fueled the growth of the Passport Program in recent years.

The final shot this month is of Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, on a flight from Bettles to Noatak National Preserve. Photo credit: Bruce Johnson, 2007

* – This count of 17 stamps does not include stamps for the Amtrak Trails and Rails Partnership program, a couple of which pass through the state of Illinois.

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Two New Civil Rights Additions to the National Park System

One of two new civil rights-related national monuments commemorates the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo of the MLK Memorial in Washington, DC from 2011.

Just one week before leaving office, on January 12, 2017, President Barack Obama proclaimed three new National Monuments under the Antiquities Act, and added those monuments to the National Park System.  Two of those National Monuments, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument, both in central Alabama, will preserve locations associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960’s.

Prior to these designations, there were already a handful of National Park Service Units dedicated to the story of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the post-World War II era.  Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas preserves the story of the pivotal 1954 Supreme Court case that led to nationwide desegregation of the schools.  Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site  in Arkansas preserves the story of the contentious desegregation effort at that school three years later in 1957.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia preserves the home where the civil rights leader lived from his birth in 1929 until 1941, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he would jointly serve as pastor with his father into the 1950’s and 60’s.  There is also the relatively new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, DC.   In addition, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC interprets the story of several civil rights moments from history, including the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.

Most notable of the National Park Service sites from this time period, however, is one place that that doesn’t actually count among the 417 units of the National Park System, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama.    Despite having two Visitor Centers and being staffed by uniformed National Park Service Rangers, National Historic Trails are not given full national park status.   Nonetheless, visitors to the Trail can follow the route of the famous Voting Rights March of March 1965, which were led in part by Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Park Service map of the new Freedom Riders National Monument in and around Anniston, Alabama.The two new sites fill in more of the civil rights timeline between the two school desegregation sites from the 1950’s, and the Voting Rights March in 1965.   Freedom Riders National Monument preserves two sites associated with a particular 1961 effort by activists to exercise their right to desegregated facilities in intercity bus service, and the violent effort by desegregation opponents to oppose them.    The plan for this “Freedom Ride” was to send a mixed-race group of civil rights activists to ride together on two intercity buses from Washington, DC to New Orleans, Louisiana.  The route for that trip would take the riders through much of the Deep South where they knew that tactics of intimidation, sometimes violent intimidation, were used to prevent racial minorities from making use of desegregated facilities.

The first bus was a Greyhound Bus, and when that bus pulled into the town of Anniston in eastern Alabama it was attached by a violent mob that slashed the bus’ tires and broke its windows with rocks.  The old Greyhound bus station in Anniston is now one of the two sites that comprise this new national monument.

Eventually, police officers arrived, and they provided an escort for the bus to leave the station – along with an “escort” of protesters from the mob.   Two cars from the rioters pulled in front of the bus and slowed down in order to slow the bus’s progress.  The bus made it six miles west down Highway 202 towards Birmingham before the slashed tires finally gave out.  The bus driver pulled to the side of the road, and the mob descended again, throwing fire bombs into the broken windows of the bus.  The Freedom Riders struggled to escape from the burning bus, even as the mob acted to try and prevent them from escaping.   Eventually they did break free, and were given some treatment at the Anniston hospital before civil rights leaders from Birmingham were able to arrange their transfer to the Birmingham hospital.   A site of nearly 6 acres where the bus burning took place is now the other site comprising this National Monument.

National Park Service map of the new Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, showing the location of the Galston Motel and Kelly Ingram Park, among other locations.

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes a four-and-a-half block area in downtown Birmingham.  The only site within the Monument boundaries that will be Federally-owned is the former A. G. Gaston Motel.   The Gaston Motel was itself owned by an African-American businessman, and was the best hotel in Birmingham at which the African-American civil rights activists could find accommodations.   In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Birmingham to plan a series of marches and sit-ins to protest segregation in the city.

On April 6, 1963, the first attempt to march on Birmingham City Hall began at the Galston Motel, but ended with the protestors being arrested within three blocks.  The next day, a march began at the nearby St. Paul United Methodist Church, but was stopped after just one block in Kelly Ingram Park.  Both of those sites are located within the authorized boundaries for the new National Monument.

A few days later, the City of Birmingham obtained an injunction against King and other civil rights leaders prohibiting future marches.  Nonetheless, April 12th dawned as Good Friday that year, and the leaders went ahead with a planned march anyways – an act for which they were promptly arrested.  It was after this arrest that King wrote his seminal essay, Letter from Birmingham Jail, laying out the philosophical and moral justification for his campaign of nonviolent protest against segregation.

It was in this letter that King wrote the memorable words “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”   These words are now inscribed on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Particularly striking to me, however, is another passage of the Letter in which King addresses his justification for defiantly breaking laws, and thus have led him to the circumstances of writing from within a Birmingham Jail.  He starts by reflecting on the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and then invoking principles of moral philosophy and theology.

Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”

For Dr. King, the laws of segregation are unjust because they, quote, “degrade human personality.”   The laws of Alabama, and King presumably has in mind here particularly the laws governing protest and assembly,  are also unjust because they are not equally applied to the majority and the minority alike, but instead are only applied to the minority.  Moreover,  King argues that all of these laws were also unjust because they were only enacted as a result of so many blacks having been denied the right to vote.   As King writes in his letter, “who can say that the legislature of Alabama, which set up the state’s segregation laws, was democratically elected?”

Words from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, inscribed on the MLK Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo from 2016.

Having laid out his case for the fundamental injustice of the laws of Alabama, King then turns his attention to one of the great philosophical questions: “what is the role of a just man in an unjust world?”   Here King lays out his radical justification for his program of non-violent protest, and for working within the American system rather than to overthrow it.  He writes:

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

King loved the law, and so he willingly accepted the penalty.    This was despite the fact that his fourth child, daughter Bernice, had been born just two weeks earlier.  King would ultimately spend nine days in jail, finally being released on April 20th.

After King’s release from prison, the civil rights campaign in Birmingham would continue to escalate.  A key turning point was the decision of organizers to use children in the protests to reinvigorate the campaign and advance the goal of drawing national attention to the injustice in Birmingham.  Beginning May 2nd, thousands of high school and even elementary students began leaving school to participate in marches.  A great many of them would be peacefully arrested.  In other cases, the city of Birmingham authorities would escalate the situation by using police dogs and extremely powerful fire hoses to disrupt the marches.   By May 5th, some of the African-American crowds that had gathered in Kelly Ingram Park themselves began to turn violent, responding to police violence by throwing rocks and other debris – despite the efforts of civil rights leaders to maintain non-violence.  As the crisis continued to escalate, normal business in downtown Birmingham ground to a halt.  By May 8, business leaders began calling for desegregation, and by May 10 a political deal was reached to end the crisis, release most of the protesters from jail, and to repeal Birmingham’s segregation ordinances.

As the crisis came to an end, a bomb blast would heavily damage the Galston Motel on the night of May 11, only a few hours after King himself had left.   King would then go on to lead the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington in August of that year. His efforts would lead to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July of that year, and he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of non-violent protest in October of 1964.

Sunset on the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo from 2012.
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