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Pullman National Monument a ‘testament to the power of our national parks’

Officials and politicians formally opened the monument to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker cut the ribbon at the visitor center for the Pullman National Monument on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker cut the ribbon at the visitor center for the Pullman National Monument.
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other elected officials gathered on Labor Day to cut the ribbon on the visitor center of the Pullman National Monument, a “monumental commitment to community and to future generations.”

“The book of American history has many important chapters with Chicago at the forefront, and with the opening of this visitor center another important chapter in that book is being written,” Lightfoot said. “I also want to say that this investment will rebound to the benefit of the Pullman and Roseland communities for generations to come. It’s an important investment, but it can’t be the only one.”

Lightfoot joined Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other city, state and federal elected officials Monday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the visitor center on the Far South Side.

The Pullman National Monument was given that designation by former President Barack Obama in 2015 and stands as Chicago’s only national monument.

Will Shafroth, the president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, said the gathering Monday was a “testament to the power of our national parks, and the generosity of so many who see them as places of awe and wonder ....”

“They truly are our common ground as a people,” Shafroth said. “What we celebrate today is a monumental commitment to community and to future generations.”

The grounds opened to the public over the weekend with guided tours of the visitor center, the historic Hotel Florence and Pullman-built rail cars.

The new monument stretches from 103rd Street to 115th Street and from the Norfolk Southern rail line east to Cottage Grove Avenue.

Within those boundaries is the Hotel Florence, a historic clocktower, exhibits and more to honor Pullman, a planned industrial community known for its sleeping cars, the porters who worked on them and the 1894 strike of those employees which helped usher in new rights for workers as well as the Labor Day holiday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted that history in his remarks, saying the “righteousness of those workers lives on in the work of union members today.”

“It’s a legacy that this site can impart to its visitors and must as we all will stand together to send that message across the world,” Pritzker said.

Since being designated a national monument, state and federal agencies have worked to renovate some pieces of the Pullman area, including its famed clocktower.

Beale, whose ward includes the area, said he didn’t know about the history of the area as a kid riding his bike through Pullman. He vowed that would change and that “every school in this area understands the history and the legacy” of Pullman and those, like labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who shaped it.

He also urged Pritzker and the federal officials present to get to work supplying the $90 million needed to finish the project.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly said she’s working with Sen. Dick Durbin to make Pullman a national park, a move that would add the area to the country’s “crown jewels,” she said.

Durbin said that distinction “make sure there’s no question about the future of this area, and how it’s going to grow in cooperation with the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois to really honor the great traditions that we associate with the Pullman historic site.”

“It isn’t just a matter of where we were as where we want to be,” Durbin said. “We want to have a more diverse and inclusive society. We want workers — Black, white and Brown men and women — all people across America to have an opportunity that was created right here at Pullman.”