[This story has been updated  on August 12 with several clarifications and corrections.]

Musician, professor, artist, and community organizer Pierce Freelon last announced that he is running for the State Senate seat may be left open by the pending departure of Floyd McKissick.

On Friday, the INDY inaccurately reported that McKissick’s seat is already open and that he had been appointed to the state’s public utilities commission.

On Monday, McKissick contacted the INDY to say that his seat is not yet open. He voted last week on bills before the General Assembly and expects to vote on bills this week.

“My seat is not open,” McKissick said. “I occupy the seat at this time. I am still here at the State Senate, doing everything humanly possible for the good of the state and for my constituency. That includes a bill to reinstate early voting precincts and primary sponsorship of a bill to create opportunities for people with criminal records to obtain expungements.”

McKissick says he has no criticism for Freelon, but he wanted to set the record straight about his ongoing representation of his senate seat. The veteran lawmaker says if he’s confirmed by the Senate, he would then tender a letter of resignation, and elected Democratic Party officials in District 20 would then recommend someone to finish his term to Governor Roy Cooper.

McKissick added that confirmation by the House does not guarantee a similar approval vote by the Senate.

Freelon, in an email announcement of his candidacy stated that’s he’s running for the senate seat, “because we Millennials need to show up big in 2020 to shift the political landscape of this country. I’m running to fight gerrymandering and to end voter suppression. I’m running to decriminalize marijuana in North Carolina. I’m running because we need a champion of progressive values in Raleigh.”

Durham’s District 20 covers a little over six hundred miles that include city and countywide voters, with a median age of thirty-four. In the 2018 election, McKissick won nearly 84 percent of the vote. The Durham attorney has served six terms in the General Assembly.

McKissick said the Senate confirmation could take six to eight months.

The veteran lawmaker’s departure and Freelon’s candidacy is the intersection of two of Durham’s most prolific families.

The outgoing senator is the son of the son of the late civil-rights lion Floyd B. McKissick, the first African-American student to attend UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school, who went on to become the director of the Congress of Racial Equality and the founder of Soul City, a community that sat on acres of farmland in Warren County. The short-lived municipality’s goal of black empowerment, and particularly the senior McKissick, met fierce opposition from former, U.S. Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who died in 2008, the younger McKissick told the INDY on Monday.

Freelon, a thirty-five-year-old married father of two children, is the son of jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon, who is a six-time Grammy nominee, and architect Phil Freelon, who designed many of the nation’s high-profile museums honoring the black tradition, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Freelon says he was inspired to run for state office in recent months while he and his mother served as his father’s caregivers before he passed away. He says that although the debilitating illness had paralyzed his father physically, his mind remained sharp.

Phil Freelon died at the age of sixty-six on July 9 after a three-year struggle with ALS. His son says he’s also running for State Senate because he promised his father that he would fight to ensure all state residents have access to health care.

Freelon’s announcement early Friday morning marks his second foray into the political arena. He made a respectable run as a progressive candidate in the 2017 Durham mayoral race, campaigning in support of affordable housing, LGBTQ rights, Durham’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented residents, the proposed light rail system, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Freelon, who started the venture Blackspace in Chapel Hill and Durham to support youth arts, said a major concern of his campaign is the denial of access to affordable health care for “tens of thousands” of state residents when the General Assembly opted to not expand the federal Medicaid program. He said the General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid was a subject he often discussed with his father.

“Dad was able to access all that the City of Medicine had to offer: a wheelchair, hospital bed, all the things that someone suffering from ALS needs, but he said that if he lived ten miles up the road, he would have died much sooner, because he wouldn’t had access to health care that allowed him to live a life of comfort and dignity,” Freelon says. “That’s not right. So many people in the state are not insured because of the gridlock in Raleigh.”


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