by Nelda Holder –
On a peaceful, green acre of land graced by numerous mature trees, located smack in the middle of downtown Raleigh between the North Carolina Executive Mansion and the NC State Legislative Building, the plan to honor “the African American struggle for freedom in North Carolina and the ideal of liberty for all” has finally seen its physical beginning with a groundbreaking held on October 7, 2020.
North Carolina Freedom Park, after some 18 years of starts, stops, and planning, received unanimous final design and concept approval by the NC Historical Commission, and will be the first park at the government complex in downtown Raleigh to specifically honor the “history, contributions, and struggles of black North Carolinians,” as noted on the Freedom Park website, ncfmp.nationbuilder.com.
Its original designer, the late Phil Freelon, left these words to describe the project in 2017: “We see Freedom Park as a step in the direction of reconciliation, of recognition, and of positive acknowledgement of the contributions of African Americans to this great state of North Carolina, and that’s something we can all feel good about.”
At the groundbreaking, Gov. Roy Cooper declared, “The desire for freedom is universal, but all North Carolinians have not had the same access to it. The history books often fail to acknowledge contributions and struggles of people of color, and this park is a critical step toward authentically telling the story of our state’s rich history.”
Conceived in 2002 by the Paul Green Foundation (which honors Pulitzer prize-winning dramatist Paul Green) as a Freedom Monument, the project saw legislative grants in 2008-2010 that began to lay the financial groundwork, and in 2013—the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation—a growing number of financial supporters prompted a reorganization of the project and a design competition.
Freelon, a Durham resident and lead design architect for the creation of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, won the competition, and a campaign for additional capital began to bring the design to fruition. The renowned Freelon also designed or was involved in designing the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. His son, Pierce, now a Durham City Councilman, participated in the Freedom Park’s groundbreaking.
The park will include a tall Beacon of Freedom (illuminated at night) in the center, surrounded by walkways featuring a network of inspirational inscriptions … and graced by those green, well rooted trees. This past July, the General Assembly allocated additional money to help build the park, and fulfillment of the Freelon design could finally begin. It is anticipated to be completed by 2022.