Durham architect calls for calm, need for Freedom Park

DURHAM (WTVD) -- A local architect is calling for calm as the debate over Confederate monuments has led to upheaval.

Durham's Phil Freelon, design director for Perkins + Will North Carolina, is the same man behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

One of his more recent designs, Freedom Park, set for construction in downtown Raleigh, is what he said people can use now more than ever.

"We see Freedom Park as a step in the direction of reconciliation, of recognition, and of positive acknowledgement of the contributions of African Americans to this great state of North Carolina and that's something we can all feel good about," said Freelon.

The park, which will be located at the corner of Wilmington and Lane Streets across from the state legislative building, will feature a video display projected onto the side of the North Carolina State Archives building, and five walkways converging at a large tower deemed the Beacon of Freedom.

Freelon said he was disappointed to see hate groups demonstrating openly in Charlottesville, Virginia where they gathered in support of a Confederate monument.

"It's always been there, but somehow folks have been emboldened," he said.

As for how to resolve the conflict, Freelon suggests starting with an open conversation.

"If we can pick our heads up and see what's really happening maybe there's an opportunity then to address things in a more positive, proactive way," said Freelon. "I think what people need to understand is, for African Americans, these Confederate monuments are more onerous than just memorializing a person. They celebrate an institution- the institution of slavery. They celebrate oppression. And that's what they represent to a broad sector of our nation. And so it's repugnant for many of us."

Fundraising efforts are underway for the $5 million Freedom Park.

Planners expect to raise the necessary funds by next summer, with the park built by 2020.

Faced with ALS, the patient architect plans to see projects through.

"Let's get it built," said Freelon referring to any one of the many project he has in the works from Raleigh's Freedom Park to the Motown Museum in Detroit.

Freelon, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, gets around his office by wheelchair now. Other than that, you may never know he's suffering from the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

"I feel very blessed and fortunate in my career to be at this point, to look back and see that we've done some things that are noteworthy," said Freelon with a smile. "And we're not finished yet. We're working on the Motown Museum in Detroit and the Freedom Park in Raleigh and we're working on two other projects in Detroit and one in Miami so I'm still doing it. It's not over."

When he isn't designing museums and monuments, Freelon is supporting research, holding a fundraiser in April for the Duke ALS Clinic.

"We're continuing to work until there's a cure, a solution," he said. "There's a lot of work to do and I want to be part of that particular solution as well."

The man who describes himself as an optimist by nature is not letting the disease keep him from doing what he loves.

"I'm looking at the bright side that I'm able to do this," said Freelon. "Many people with this affliction can't speak clearly and they can't move or articulate so I'm happy for the blessings that I have."
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.