'He's still with me:' Son of famed Triangle architect Phil Freelon remembers father's legacy

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Pierce Freelon, son of renowned Durham architect Phil Freelon said he hopes his father's death raises awareness about ALS and people with disabilities.

Phil Freelon led the design of the iconic National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, which opened in September 2016.

That was the same year he was diagnosed with ALS, an aggressive disease that causes the movement and function of the body to decline.

"The only motion he had left was the ability to speak and move his left hand," Pierce Freelon said.

The 66-year-old died Tuesday morning surrounded by loved ones at the family's home that he designed.

Pierce said he held his father's hand and watched him take his last breath.

"I still feel his presence in the two days that he has been gone -- I feel like I have seen, or heard, or smelled him several times. I'm wearing his ring, his bracelet; he's still with me," Pierce said.

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Part 2: Pierce Freelon talks about his father, distinguished architect Phil Freelon.



Outside of architectural design, Pierce Freelon said his father loved to play basketball, play chess and listen to music.

"One of the last things he told me was I'm going over yonder. It's a song. I'm going over yonder. He loved quoting songs and bringing that into his daily life and making us laugh," Pierce recalled.

Pierce said his father also taught him to show people from all walks of life dignity, love and respect.



Phil Freelon is known from coast to coast and in the Triangle for his artistic approach to architecture and design.

Some of the buildings he's helped design include:
  • Durham County Human Services Building

  • Hillside High School in Durham

  • Durham Bulls Athletic Park

  • Durham Transportation Center

  • Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco

  • Harvey Gantt African American History Museum in Charlotte, N.C.

  • Smithsonian African American History and Culture Museum in Washington D.C.


"All of his buildings have this kind of creative, vibrant style to it. And he also put that kind of style to it. He also put that style in his children," Pierce Freelon said. "Clearly, my siblings, my wife, his grandchildren -- we all have this vibrant energy that he left us with, and we are his living legacies and it's a privilege to carry his spirit forward through the work that we do."

Last year, Phil Freelon and his wife, Grammy-nominated jazz singer Nneena Freelon, founded North Star Church for the Arts in downtown Durham on West Geer Street.

Pierce Freelon serves as the artistic director.

The family is asking in lieu of flowers to support North Star.

On September 28, the family will hold a memorial service for Phil Freelon at the Durham County Human Services building.
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