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'A beacon of hope': NC Freedom Park opens Wednesday in honor of African Americans' struggle for freedom

The North Carolina Freedom Park opened Wednesday in downtown Raleigh.

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Eric Miller, WRAL reporter
Destinee Patterson, WRAL reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Freedom Park opened Wednesday in downtown Raleigh.

Several people, including Gov. Roy Cooper and NC Poet Laureate Jackie Shelton Green, spoke at the event.

"We, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission serve with a mission to preserve, protect and promote North Carolina African American history, art and culture for all people," said Adrienne Nirdé, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. "We are proud to be the stewards of North Carolina Freedom Park."

The site is the first park in North Carolina to honor the African American struggle for freedom, an experience that represents universal themes of freedom, perseverance and equality.

"It truly stands as a beacon of hope," Nirdé said. "This a is a reminder that the ideals of perseverance, equality and freedom are aspirations that can unite us all. It serves as a space open to the community, to all North Carolinians, to be outside, to reflect and to learn about our history and its roots in our state."

In honor of the park's opening, Green wrote an original poem, "Freedoms Beaconed," that she read aloud for the first time Wednesday.

Cooper thanked everyone who contributed to the park's culmination. He spoke about the importance of Freedom Park and what it stands for.

"They will come to Raleigh to see the Capitol and the museums and the parks and the executive mansion and the legislature," Cooper said. "Now they will see freedom as well."

"They will step into a garden that displays the brutal truth, an extraordinary accomplishment bound in Black history, a garden where diversity is revered and where struggle and strife and suffering and death and strength and resilience and brilliance can inspire determination to reach the greater good that I believe God intended."

Cooper said it's important to remember ugly parts of history – not just the good.

"We live in the greatest country in the world," Cooper said. "But let's learn about the great and the good and the bad and the ugly, unvarnished, so that we can all know and learn."

"We are making amazing progress in race relations, but we know that there is still a long way to go."

Pierce Freelon's dad, Phil, designed Freedom Park.

"I felt the presence and energy of my dad," Pierce Freelon said.

Freedom Park was Phil Freelon's last project that he designed before he died in 2019.

In March, two dozen Wake County students went on one of the first tours of the North Carolina Freedom Park ahead of its scheduled opening this summer.

A group of 10th-grade students at Wake Early College of Information and Biotechnologies will be creating an app highlighting Black history in downtown Raleigh, including the new park on the corner of North Wilmington Street and East Lane Street.

“It was a lot of fun just seeing the pre-work to what actually is going to happen and what the final product is going to look like," 10th-grade student Janay Snell said. "It was really exciting."

The North Carolina Freedom Park is set to open in the summer of 2023 on the corner of North Wilmington Street and East Lane Street in Raleigh.

It’s a project that’s been 17 years in the making.

“We started the idea of creating a park 17 years ago," said Reginald Hodges, the chair of the construction liaison committee for North Carolina Freedom Park. "Around 2014, 2015, we put together all the details of what we wanted in a park, and we started with the design aspect then.

"We had to raise the money; we had to get the property. We are not a government organization. We’re doing this all as volunteers, and yes, it has taken 17 years to reach this point."

The now-78-year-old said he remembers a time when North Carolina was segregated, and he was not treated equally.

“Growing up, I could not go into restaurants; I could not sit in the front of the bus; I could not go to certain bathrooms … All of that has changed,” Hodges said. “Every generation, it changes. The current generation is facing new obstacles and new struggles as the struggle for freedom continues.”

Now, Wake County’s younger generation will use the information they learned to help educate others.

“It’s our history," Snell said. "It’s our deep history that we don’t get to see otherwise. Having this, it’s going to be monumental.”

While the contractors did not want to share a specific date, they told WRAL News they are aiming for this summer. Since the groundbreaking in 2020, the project was delayed due to wet weather and supply chain issues.

“When the park is completed, they will reflect on the quotes that are on the wall, and they will look at the beacon, which is a guide and inspiration for the future – and they will leave here with a new outlook on freedom and equality for all,” Hodges said.

The North Carolina Freedom Park is set to open in summer 2023 on the corner of North Wilmington Street and East Lane Street in Raleigh.
The park is located at 218 N. Wilmington Street in Raleigh, behind the State Archives and History building.


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