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In Final Days in Office, Obama Designates Five New National Monuments

On Thursday, during Barack Obama's last full week in office, the president did for the (probably) last time something he's done more than anybody else who's occupied the White House: He designated some new national monuments.

Five of them, to be exact.  

Exercising his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to preserve sites of historic, cultural, and ecological importance, Obama added three civil rights landmarks and two natural areas to his monument roster.

Of the three places commemorating African Americans' struggle for equality, two are in Alabama. The new Birmingham Civil Rights National Historical Monument includes the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a racially motivated bombing in 1963 killed four girls and injured 22 other people. And in Anniston, Alabama, the Freedom Riders National Monument encompasses a Greyhound bus station where an interracial group of men and women challenging the segregation of public transportation was attacked by a mob in 1961. 

The Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort, South Carolina, commemorates the period immediately following the Civil War, when freed slaves began asserting their autonomy—before Jim Crow segregation came along in the 1890s. Protected buildings include the home of Robert Smalls, the first black U.S. congressperson.

On the environmental side, Obama expanded the California Coastal National Monument and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by 5,000 acres and 42,000 acres, respectively.

While the sites in Alabama and South Carolina have bipartisan support, the natural ones are more controversial—particularly in Oregon. Scientists say that expanding the protected areas will help flora and fauna (especially fish species) endangered by climate change. But the possibility of new restrictions on cattle grazing and logging has drawn opposition from some industry goups.