During the noon hour on October 7, ceremonial shovels of earth will be turned, indicating that the actual construction of the long-anticipated North Carolina Freedom Park will be beginning soon. The park will be located at the corner of Wilmington and Lane Streets in Raleigh, just across the street from the state legislature. Regrettably, because of the pandemic the groundbreaking ceremony cannot be open to the public.
Most of the places in the Western hemisphere that have a history of slavery have chosen to celebrate emancipation with bold, positive, inclusive works of public art that affirm the value of freedom and are located in prominent public spaces. With the construction of Freedom Park, North Carolina will proudly become one of those places.
Early supporters of the idea for Freedom Park included founding project board members John Hope Franklin, the distinguished historian, and William Friday, the greatly respected president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system, both now deceased.
The design for the park was the vision of the late Phil Freelon, who was the chief architect of the acclaimed National Museum of African American History and Culture in the nation’s capital. That structure cost more than $500 million and was dedicated in 2016 by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Freelon invested a great deal of his time and talent supervising the design for Freedom Park until his death last year due to ALS. If he had chosen to, he could have put all his time into projects that had higher profiles and much higher price tags. For him, the park clearly was a labor of love.
Freedom Park will be a beautiful one-acre green space in the heart of the busy capital city. The words of people who were slaves in North Carolina, and of their descendants, will be artfully inscribed on walls along its walkways. Those people have something to say to the world about freedom, struggle, and perseverance through adversity.
The park will include the words of enslaved women like Harriet Jacobs, poets like George Moses Horton, educators like Charlotte Hawkins Brown, ministers and priests like James Walker Hood and Pauli Murray, civil rights leaders like Golden A. Frinks, and business people like John H. Wheeler, who said that “the battle for freedom begins every morning.”
The power of their words will make clear that the people who tend to express the value of freedom with the greatest clarity and moral authority are the people who were denied it most completely. At the very center of the park will be a towering, inspiring, iconic illuminated sculpture called the “Beacon of Freedom” that will shine up into the night sky.
It is crucial that we embrace and honor this history of Black North Carolinians and affirm that it speaks to all of us. The pursuit of freedom and dignity is at the core of the human condition. There has never been a time when there was a greater need to establish common ground and acknowledge shared values and ideals.
In June, the members of the state Senate cast a historic unanimous vote in support of Freedom Park. The state House supported the project by an overwhelming majority of 101 to 4. The park also has the full support of the governor.
Freedom Park needs and deserves the support of all North Carolinians. Although generous support for the project was included in the state budget, more than half of the funding for construction comes from private donations. When Freedom Park is completed, it will be a gift to the people of North Carolina and will be owned by the state. Visit NCFreedomPark.org to learn how you can be a part of this important project.
– You can refer to the interactive tool that provides a real time experience of the Park here.
– The project video featuring Architect Phil Freelon is here.
Reginald F. Hildebrand is a member of the board of the NC Freedom Park.
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