'Model for the country.' Freedom Park in downtown Raleigh to honor African American contributions

Akilah Davis Image
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Freedom Park opens in Raleigh to honor NC African-American heritage
EMBED <>More Videos

A 40-foot metal structure sits right in the middle and it is called the Beacon of Freedom.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Elliott Palmer never thought he'd live to see the day a landmark project honoring the many contributions and struggles of African Americans in North Carolina would come.

Palmer, 90, remembers the segregated South. He worked as an educator and executive director of what would become the North Carolina Association of Educators, after merging the white and Black organizations together. He shared what happened when both groups were flying back from a national conference.

"The plane got to the end of the runway and couldn't take off because of the ice. It skidded around and when it skidded around, all of a sudden everybody could talk to each other and got along just fine," Palmer said.

From tense race relations then to honoring the struggles of Black North Carolinians today. ABC11 showed him photos of the North Carolina Freedom Park.

"I think that's quite an achievement for the Raleigh community," said Palmer. "We've had all kinds of struggles between the Blacks and the Whites."

The design comes from the late Phil Freelon, a North Carolina State University graduate and one of America's most prominent Black architects. He's best known for designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. After his passing in 2019, Zena Howard became the lead architect.

"For me, it feels like a part of him still lives and will forever live, so it has certainly been an honor," said Howard.

Freedom Park has been 20 years in the making and it shares touching words of African Americans with strong ties to North Carolina.

"I think it's a model for the country and other southern states on how to recognize people that should have been recognized a long time ago," she said.

At its center stands this 40-foot-tall metal structure called the Beacon of Freedom. It represents a flame that never goes out. Elders in the community say it's a reminder to the next generation to continue carrying the torch of hope.

"I want them to take away that everybody can work together with respect to race, creed, or color if you try," said Palmer.

North Carolina Freedom Park officially opens on Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 10 a.m.

Editor's Note: Representatives for Freedom Park incorrectly told ABC11 the new park is built on a place that previously featured monuments honoring Confederate soldiers. This article has been updated to remove that error.

Previous Freedom Park Stories

'Diversity is indeed our strength': Creation of Freedom Park in Raleigh honors North Carolina's Black heritage

NC Freedom Park to represent 'freedom for all' in downtown Raleigh

Durham architect calls for calm, need for Freedom Park

Organizers talk 2021 plan for Freedom Park in downtown Raleigh

NC Senate passes funding for Freedom Park, African American monuments on Capitol ground