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$4 million park celebrating Black struggle in NC breaks ground
1-acre Freedom Park built in Raleigh
Published Tuesday, October 6, 2020 11:17 pm
by Freda Freeman | The Triangle Tribune

Artist's rendering of North Carolina Freedom Park, which breaks ground on Oct. 7 in Raleigh. The park recognizes the Black freedom struggle in North Carolina.

RALEIGH – A plan that has been 10 years in the making is finally coming to fruition Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony for the North Carolina Freedom Park.

Project organizers said the park, the first to honor the African American struggle for freedom in North Carolina, is both a testament to the past and a beacon for the future.

“It is an affirmation, celebration, and commemoration of the value of freedom, and that value is stated with no greater authority and clarity by any people than by the people who were denied it most completely – people who had been slaves and their descendants. The people making the most powerful statement about freedom are the ones who were denied it,” said Reginald Hildebrand, a Freedom Park board member.

When completed, Hildebrand said, the park will be a proud part of the heritage of North Carolina. Freedom Park embraces and celebrates the state’s long-neglected history.

“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,” Hildebrand said.

Freedom Park represents freedom, perseverance, and equality, said Sen. Natalie Murdock. “I think one of our quotes says it best: ‘The struggle for freedom begins every morning.’ We want the park to reflect our struggle and fight for freedom and to reflect upon the importance of fighting for freedom through the African American experience. As African Americans who continue to build and make contributions to our great state and nation, we feel that it is a very American story,” Murdock said.

The 1-acre park is to be built downtown on the corner of Wilmington and Lane streets near the State Legislature and Governor’s Mansion. Planners will break ground on Oct. 7, with construction slated to begin in the spring. The projected completion date is spring 2022. When completed, the park will be gifted to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for maintenance.

The projected cost is $4 million. About $3.2 million has been raised through state and private funding. The groundbreaking ceremony will kick off the public fundraising campaign, said Murdock, who’s the campaign coordinator.

The park project was initially started by the Paul Green Foundation, which provides modest grants to nonprofit organizations. Ten town hall meetings were held across the state to get public input, says board co-chair David Warren. “This is a project that has been generated by all parts of the state for all the people of the state. This is the first time there has been statewide recognition of the vital role African Americans employed in the culture and history of this state,” he said.

Over the past 10 years, plans for the park changed and grass roots fundraising efforts were hampered by the economic downturn and the recession. Murdock said efforts were revitalized, and the plan was completely redesigned thanks to the late world-renowned architect Phil Freelon and his design team at Perkins and Will.

Pierce Freelon said his father cared deeply about creating cultural spaces that made people smile, think, and feel connected to their ancestors. He said Freedom Park encapsulates all three. As African Americans throughout the country work to bring down Confederate monuments and other symbols of white supremacy, Freelon said Freedom Park will celebrate the history and contributions of Black people.

“There are so many wonderful Black stories to tell and legacies to uphold and heritage to cherish that Freedom Park will help us memorialize. And to do so in a structure that’s beautiful, inviting, historical, and truth telling will be a welcomed shift away from some of the monuments of Confederacy and white supremacy that are so widespread throughout the state. Now that my dad’s physical body is gone, what a wonderful way for us to cherish his memory by uplifting the voices of other black trailblazers,” he said.

Among the park’s features is a tribute to notable African Americans with ties to North Carolina, such as historian John Hope Franklin; C.C. Spaulding of N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company; Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and attorney; civil rights activist Ella Baker; the Greensboro Four and the legends of Black Wall Street. Their stories will be told through the “voices of freedom” or quotes that will be inscribed on walls along walkways throughout the park. There will be docents on site, and there are plans to make the park interactive so visitors can learn more about it via an app on their phones or other digital devices. There will also be events, programs, and festivals.

Board co-chair Goldie Frinks Wells said a visit to the park will be a history lesson that will be eye opening and inspirational. Wells is the daughter of civil rights activist Golden Frinks, the first Southern Christian Leadership Conference field secretary that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hired to oversee desegregation efforts in North Carolina. Wells hopes the park will light the spark for others to carry the torch to keep the fight for freedom alive.

“It’s very important to look back at some of the souls who have gone through and to have the voices of freedom. We have quotes from those who have been in the struggle, and they have valuable messages to give to us. It’s very valuable that we bring that to this generation, to those who are becoming,” she said.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, attendance at the groundbreaking is limited. The public can view the event virtually on the Freedom Park’s YouTube channel, beginning at noon. For more information and to donate, visit ncfmp.org.


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