WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama is designating three new national monuments for protection as historic or ecologically significant sites, including the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago where African-American railroad workers won a historic labor agreement.
The White House said Obama will be in his hometown Thursday to announce the Pullman National Monument.
The neighborhood on the city’s South Side was built by industrialist George Pullman in the 19th century for workers to manufacture luxurious railroad sleeping cars. The neighborhood was crucial in the African-American labor movement.
Obama also is expected to announce designation of Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii, the site of an internment camp where Japanese-American citizens and prisoners of war were held during World War II; as well as Brown’s Canyon National Monument in Colorado, a 21,000-acre site along the Arkansas River popular for whitewater rafting.
The White House said the three new monuments “help tell the story of significant events in American history and protect unique natural resources for the benefit of all Americans.”
The 203-acre Pullman site includes factories and buildings associated with the Pullman Palace Car Company, which was founded in 1867 and employed thousands of workers to construct and provide service on railroad cars. While the company employed a mostly white workforce to manufacture railroad passenger cars, it also hired former slaves to serve as porters, waiters and maids on its iconic sleeping cars.
The railroad industry – and Pullman in particular — was one of the largest employers of African-Americans in the United States by the early 1900s. Pullman workers played a major role in the rise of the black middle class and, through a historic labor agreement won by the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, they helped launch the civil rights movement of the 20th Century, the White House said.
The president’s visit falls days before the city’s mayoral election, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seeking a second term. Emanuel is a former White House chief of staff under Obama.