PULLMAN — President Barack Obama introduced the nation's newest national monument Thursday, reminiscing on his time spent in Pullman as a community organizer.
"This is the neighborhood where I made lifelong friends. This is the area where I became a man," he said. "I learned so much about love and work and loyalty and friendship."
In those days, even the future president had to dig his own car out of the snow: "I had a pretty raggedy coat," he recalled from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy.
Thanks in part to area residents and an $8 million fundraising effort led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Pullman was officially designated a national monument Thursday, capping a years long effort to win recognition for the historic area.
The neighborhood, which was built by railroad baron George Pullman for his workers in the 1880s, was one of three national monuments introduced by Obama Thursday, including Honoliuli National Monument in Hawaii, which served as an internment camp for Japanese-American citizens during World War II, and Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado.
The new monuments, Obama said, "reflect our history and our national heritage."
Pullman, he said, "has been a milestone in our journey toward a more perfect union," citing the 1894 strike that galvanized workers across the nation.
He said the first lady's great-grandfather was a Pullman porter, and the area created a middle class.
"These men and women, without rank, without wealth and title, became the bedrock of a new middle class."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduce the president to the crowd at Brooks College Prep.
"Today we are renewing Pullman's promise," he said. "Pullman will now belong not just to all of Chicago, but to all of America, as America's newest national monument. Millions of people will make their own journey here."
The plans for the monument include converting the derelict Pullman Administration Building's clock tower into a national park visitor center, establishing exhibits and educational programs about Pullman's factory town for schoolchildren and tourists, and explaining the area's role in the nation's labor and civil rights movement.
The event was not without a political undertone, taking place five days before Chicago's municipal elections. One of Emanuel's challengers, Willie Wilson, was in attendance. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he was not invited, despite being a member of the Historic Pullman Foundation Board.
Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to make his way onto the stage as Obama signed the official declarations, but was left at the rope line.
When asked about the incident afterward, Rauner just smiled and walked away.
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