Twenty years in the making, Raleigh’s Freedom Park started off from numerous meetings being held throughout the state of North Carolina, as community members, activists, and educators came together to decide on what a monument honoring the contributions of African Americans in North Carolina would look like.
The project was originally initiated and funded by the Paul Green Foundation. It soon grew into a charitable organization with several distinctive members on the Board of Directors such as Julius L. Chambers, William C. Friday, Mary Duke Biddle, and the Chairman of the Board: John Hope Franklin.
The original design concept was meant to focus on the historical struggle of African Americans throughout North Carolina History. This changed years later, as feedback from a focus group led by the Board of Directors prompted switching the concept to reflect the core values of freedom for African Americans and how they have changed over time.
Continuous funding, a smaller board of directors, and a new concept for the park led to a proposal for a new design. In 2016, world-famous architect Phil Freelon was chosen to design and proceed with the development of the now-named North Carolina Freedom Park.
Approved by the State Legislature and awarded the Merit Award from the American Institute of Architects Triangle Section for the Freelon design, the park would be placed on a central one-acre site between the State Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion. Construction began in 2021 and, once completed, would be deeded back to the state under the Department of Administration and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
The park's final design contains quotes from notable African Americans that have been placed along the walls and pathways that lead to the 40-foot-tall Beacon of Freedom.
This is the first memorial and park dedicated to African Americans, their contributions to North Carolina history, and freedom for all, located in North Carolina.
More about North Carolina Freedom Park:
Bond, Mattison, "North Carolina Freedom Park," NCpedia, June 2023, https://ncpedia.org/north-carolina-freedom-park
Thomas, Aaron and Mims, Bryan, "'First park to recognize the African American experience in our state:' NC breaks ground on Freedom Park," WRAL News, Sept. 30, 2020. www.wral.com/first-park-to-recognize-the-african-american-experience-in-our-state-nc-breaks-ground-on-freedom-park/19313728/
Check out the Beacon of Freedom:
Image from: NC State University News, Durham architect Phil Freelon '75 at the Durham County Human Services Building, which he designed.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philip Freelon was an African American architect who is known for his designs of cultural and historical buildings and memorials throughout the United States. He was inspired by his grandfather to become an architect and pursued his career starting at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. Later, he would transfer to North Carolina State University, where he would earn his bachelor’s degree, work as a professor, and credit it as being pivotal to his career as an architect. He earned his master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Throughout his career, Phil Freelon received numerous awards for his designs, served as a professor at several universities, founded his own architecture firm called The Freelon Group, and established a fellowship fund at Harvard University for African Americans and other minority students.
His most renowned project is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, located in Washington D.C.
Freelon’s work was reflective of his desire to create environments that enhanced the lives of everyday people by fostering community and knowledge. His design of the North Carolina Freedom Park was no exception.
Also designed by Phil Freelon:
Learn more about Phil Freelon:
More Videos about Phil Freelon:
Did You Know...
The Holt Brothers Construction company, hired to complete the NC Freedom Park, is Black-owned and led by brothers Torry and Terrence Holt. The brothers were born in Gibsonville, NC and went on to play in the NFL before they founded their construction company.
Renée Ater. “Communities in Conflict: Memorializing Martin Luther King Jr. in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.” Indiana Magazine of History 110, no. 1 (2014): 32–39. https://doi.org/10.5378/indimagahist.110.1.0032.
“The goal is a public art tribute to freedom as expressed through the African American Experience. It will be called [North Carolina Freedom Park] and will be located in the heart of the state capital as a continuing reminder of the struggles for freedom – and how much more we need to do to achieve equity and justice in our society.”
-John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), historian
“There is another peculiarity about the people of North Carolina.... There seems to be more of the unquenchable fire of freedom in the eyes of these people than in those of any other people we have visited.”
-Robert Hamilton, editor New York Anglo-African (1864)
“I can’t breathe.”
-George Floyd (1973-2020)
“Now, Americans! I ask you candidly, was your suffering under Great Britain, one hundredth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?”
-David Walker (1796-1830), author, abolitionist
“When they told me my new born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women.”
-Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897), author and refugee from slavery
“The colored woman of to-day occupies, one may say, a unique position.... She is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem.”
-Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), scholar, educator and feminist
“At the appearance of our troops the people gathered. I noticed an old man and woman singing and giving God the praise to see this day! They thanked God that the day had come when they were not to be driven to market to be sold as sheep. The children shouted and clasped their hands. I was indeed speechless.”
-John W. Pratt, Soldier U.S. Colored Troops, on slavery’s end in Wilmington, February 22, 1865
“You might as well talk of the safety of a flock of sheep with a pack of hungry wolves...as to take the ballot from the colored man.... We expect to maintain the right of suffrage, at whatever cost.”
-Reverend James Walker Hood (1831-1918), delegate to 1868 State Constitutional Convention
“That audacious belief of our people - that in most ordinary men and women there reside the most extraordinary possibilities, and that, if we keep the doors of opportunity open to them, they will amaze us with their achievements.”
-James E. Shepard (1875-1947), President North Carolina College for Negroes
“My philosophy is that position or place can never segregate mind or soul. I sit in the Jim Crow car, but my mind keeps company with the kings and queens I have known.”
-Charlotte Hawkins Brown (1883-1961), founder Palmer Memorial Institute
“On my way here I got gunned down in Georgia, I was bombed in Sunday school in Alabama, we were shot in the back in Mississippi, I came across the bridge beaten and bleeding.... I came by the funeral of Martin Luther King, the body of Malcolm X.... I came by tent cities for poor people.... But more important, I AM STILL COMING.”
-Golden A. Frinks (1920-2004), Civil Rights leader
“I am looking for the rising generation. ...there must be a deep foundation laid for the coming generation.”
-Abraham Galloway (1837-1870), slave, soldier, state senator
“It has taken me almost a lifetime to discover that true emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past, in deriving my strength from all my roots, in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.”
-Pauli Murray(1910-1985), attorney, Episcopal priest
“Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind."
-Ella Baker (1903-1986), Civil Rights leader, educator
“We have to defend what we have gained. We can try to isolate ourselves from those less fortunate, but there will always be something holding us back until all our people are given their full rights.”
-Julius Chambers (1936-2013), director N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund
“My father passed the torch to me, which I have never let go out.”
-Lyda Moore Merrick (1890-1987), editor, advocate for the blind
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.”
-Maya Angelou (1928-2014), poet, “Caged Bird”
“We want our children and our grandchildren to march towards full lives and noble characters.... And for that we got to be free, freedom of the soul and freedom of the mind.... Freedom! Freedom!”
-quote from In Abraham’s Bosom by Paul Green, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1927
“Anything is possible. Just think about how the forced migration brought us here and all the struggles we’ve faced and continue to face. Look at what we have been able to achieve as a people!”
-Phil Freelon, architect of NC Freedom Park (1953-2019)