President Barack Obama was in Chicago Thursday to designate the Pullman factory district as a national monument. With a stroke of the president's pen, the Pullman Historic District is now a national monument, and the city's first national park. The new monument's boundaries are 103rd Street to the north, 115th Street to the south, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and the Norfolk & Western Rail Line to the east.
In his speech at the designation ceremony, which was attended by Gov. Bruce Rauner -- who has a reputation for being a union antagonist, Obama highlighted the importance of labor unions, saying "As Americans, we believe workers' rights are civil rights."
"Gradually our country would add protections that we now take for granted: a 40-hour workweek, the weekend, overtime pay, safe workplace conditions and the right to organize for higher wages and better opportunities," the president said. "So this site is at the heart of what would become America's labor movement -- and as a consequence, at the heart of what would become America's middle class."
The push to designate the Pullman district as a national monument began about three years ago. The area is deeply entrenched in both the labor and civil rights movements. The Pullman Strike of 1894 eventually led to the founding of the nation's first African American labor union to get collective bargaining rights, the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters. The strike also helped lay the groundwork for the Labor Day holiday, with legislation for the holiday passing through Congress six days after the work stoppage's end. Pullman is also the site of the nation's first model industrial town.
"Few sites tell the story of American industry, labor, urban planning and African American workers as well as Pullman," said Clark Bunting, president and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association. "There is no doubt that those who lived and worked at Pullman helped shape our country. We owe it to them to preserve their story."
The National Park Service (NPS) will now own the Pullman Factory Complex and the land on which it is located. The federal agency will have the ability to take ownership of additional property or assets as they become available. As part of the National Park System of the United States, the Pullman district will enjoy the benefits of increased coordination for preservation efforts by federal, state and local agencies.
"The future of America's next great urban national landmark lies in the Pullman community's storied past," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) of Pullman's new distinction. "As an Illinoisan, I am proud to represent this community, which has come together to share its proud legacy of labor and civil rights. And as an American, I look forward to joining visitors from across the country in exploring a new monument to this critical chapter in our national history. I thank Senator Kirk and Representative Kelly for being my partners in this effort, and congratulate the many members of this community who have worked so hard to restore and preserve this unique landmark."
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who attended the ceremony, noted his ongoing support of and lobbying for the Pullman designation.
"I fought for this designation with Senator Durbin and Rep. Kelly because regardless of party, it was the right thing to do for our state. As Chicago's first national monument, the Pullman District will bring thousands of tourists to Chicagoland every year, which will help to breathe new life into our local economies," Kirk said. "Today I am proud that America's first industrial town founded by George Pullman is receiving the recognition it deserves as a national monument."
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2), whose district includes the Pullman neighborhood, said the new monument will have a positive, long-term impact on the area and its legacy.
"Pullman National Monument will be a crown jewel of the community, a remarkable achievement made possible only through the cooperation and collaboration of leaders from the public and private sectors and the residents of the neighborhood. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of many, the history and legacy of Pullman will endure for generations to come and people from all over the country will be encouraged to visit and learn more about the vital role Pullman played in our nation's labor and civil rights history," said Kelly.
During his speech at the designation ceremony, Obama gave Rahm Emanuel a boost just in time for next week's municipal election, praising him for his "extraordinary service" as mayor.
"He was an essential part of my team at the White House during some very hard times for America. And I relied on his judgment every day and his smarts every day, his toughness every day," Obama said at the ceremony.
"Rahm hasn't just fought for a national park in Pullman. He's fought for new opportunity and new jobs in Pullman and for every Chicagoan in every neighborhood, making sure every single person gets a fair shot at (the) success they deserve, and I could not be prouder of him and the extraordinary service he's providing," the president added.
Image: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast