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Thursday May 26th

N.C. breaks ground on new park to honor the African American struggle for freedom

A sign indicates the future site of the Freedom Park at the corner of South Wilmington Street and East Lane Street in downtown Raleigh.
Buy Photos A sign indicates the future site of the Freedom Park at the corner of South Wilmington Street and East Lane Street in downtown Raleigh.

A new park located in the heart of North Carolina’s capital will help schoolchildren learn about Black history and honor the African American experience in the state.

Freedom Park, which could open to the public by 2022, will be located in Raleigh between the North Carolina Legislative Building and the Governor’s Mansion. State officials and those who pushed for the park's creation broke ground on Oct. 7.

The Beacon of Freedom, the park’s centerpiece, will be the first state monument to honor the African American struggle for freedom in North Carolina. 

The park was designed by Phil Freelon, who died in 2019. Freelon's son, Durham City Council member Pierce Freelon, said in an email that he was surprised a monument recognizing the African American struggle for freedom took this long to be built. 

“Black folks have made such significant contributions to the history and culture of North Carolina, my main thought is: ‘what took so long?’” Pierce Freelon said in the email. “It reveals the extent to which systemic racism has historically worked to erase black folks from existence: from the history books, from the polls and from political power.”

He said Freedom Park is an important part of his father's legacy. 

“He always mentioned the Freedom Park as one of his proudest achievements, alongside the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture,” Pierce Freelon said. “I know he was smiling down at us at the groundbreaking.”

The park’s design is meant to educate visitors on Black history. Inscriptions on features located throughout the park will tell the story of the African American struggle in North Carolina.

According to the Freedom Park website, there are also plans for the park to feature educational programming through an LED screen on a building located near the park.

The park will become a regular stop on schoolchildren’s visits to Raleigh, according to the park's website. In 2019, Raleigh served almost 315,000 visitors through Capital Area Visitor Services, the department that schedules field trips for schoolchildren at state-owned points of interest.

The Freedom Park website provides a flexible curriculum that ties in with Freedom Park, titled “The African American Experience in North Carolina.” The curriculum was developed in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and is intended to be implemented into eighth grade classes before field trips to Raleigh and Freedom Park.

“When I look out over this site, I imagine the schoolchildren who will one day come here to see the Beacon of Freedom and draw inspiration from the words of activists,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at the Oct. 7 groundbreaking event, listing off several leaders of the struggle for freedom. “And as we reflect today on our history, and look with hope toward our future, we know that this site will help to educate generations to come.”

Students and other visitors can expect to start visiting Freedom Park in 2022, the Freedom Park Board of Directors Secretary Victoria Gallagher said.

“We have about $700,000 to raise to light the beacon,” Gallagher said. “We’re very confident we’ll be able to do that in the next six months or so, which means the park would finally be completed and ready to ribbon cut in 2022.”

Gallagher began working on the Freedom Park project 18 years ago, when the park was first proposed.

“Memorials and parks do take a long time to get done," Gallagher said. “People don’t always realize this, but the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. took 33 years before it was built. So monuments and memorials have always been something we do a lot of arguing about, so that’s not unusual.”

Once the park is completed, it will be managed by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The department will schedule programs such as musical events, civic gatherings, reenactments and celebrations.

The park is currently taking donations to meet its funding goal.

“I hope the beacon will be a light to the historic and ongoing struggles of Black people," Freelon said. "One of my father’s other legacy projects is NorthStar Church of the Arts, which is named after Polaris, the star that enslaved Africans followed get to freedom. Perhaps this beacon will serve as a symbolic North Star, leading us closer to freedom.”

@trevorwmoore

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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