HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Residents and historians of Fort Monroe gathered on the Fourth of July to remember the man who the fort is named after.
This Independence Day marks the 188th anniversary of President James Monroe’s death.
“I wanted them to know James Monroe was a man for the ages, that he thought ahead of his time,” said Mark Walsh, who is with the James Monroe Memorial Foundation.
Monroe served in office from 1817-1825. During that time, he ordered the construction of the fort, which is also celebrating the 200th anniversary of its construction.
But, Walsh wanted attendees to leave knowing more about Monroe’s untold legacy.
While working as a young lawyer and eventually governor, Monroe asked for those involved with slave revolts to have trials instead of hangings, according to Walsh.
The historian says that this was unusual for the time because slaves did not get legal rights and were seen as property.
After his presidency, Monroe served as the chair for Virginia’s Constitutional Convention, and while he could not vote, Monroe could make recommendations.
“He wants to end slavery in Virginia in 1829. What makes that so incredible is that it’s 30 years before the Civil War began. Virginia wouldn’t have been a part of the Confederacy. They wouldn’t of had that to fight about. There would have been no slavery in Virginia. It would’ve been a different world entirely,” he said.
Walsh says that Monroe was a supporter of the African Colonization Society to get freed slaves back to Africa.
The capital of Liberia, a country in Africa founded by freed American slaves, is Monrovia.
Although Monroe did own slaves, Walsh says his viewpoints to abolish slavery went against the grain.
He hopes others can take something away from that.
“I’d like people to say what can I do as I go along and do this to better race relations? How can I be a beacon like that? Make our country stronger and bring our communities together?” he said.
Those in attendance agreed that courage is needed in our country now more than ever.
“I think we as Americans and as people should strive to do what’s right despite what social norms are,” said Kenneth Curtin, who sang the national anthem at the ceremony.
Robert Kelly, who lives at Fort Monroe and attended the event which was held in his front yard, says that learning more about the president in “Freedom’s Fortress” allows him to also reflect on what road our country can head down.
“It gives us an opportunity to move forward saying ‘OK, what do we need to do to move forward?’ so we can continue to be this place of freedom and a shinning beacon,” he said.
Fort Monroe will celebrate Independence Day on July 5 with fireworks at 9:15 p.m.
Officials ask the public to be there by 8 p.m.