NC Freedom Monument Project

by Terry Watson | November 4th, 2010
John Hope Franklin

John Hope Franklin (Photo by NC Freedom Monument Project)

In Barbados, the grandson of the well-known humanist Paul Green, witnessed the awesome statue of a man breaking his shackles and becoming free. This 1960 monument, memorializing the 100th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s emancipation of slaves, inspired him in 2001 to persuade the Paul Green Foundation to start a Freedom Monument Project for North Carolina.

The mission of the project is to create and strengthen bonds between diverse people and to conceive, finance and create a lasting and fitting public tribute to freedom as especially expressed in North Carolina by the African American experience. It will take the form of a public monument park on a large corner space near the State Legislative Building and State Library – a location visited annually by thousands of tourists and school children.
The project leaders agreed to begin the journey toward a monument by gathering personal ideas and experiences relating to the concept of “freedom” from persons of all races and ages across the state. The goal was to communicate these impressions to artists who would propose ways to express them through public art that would educate and inspire those who view it. The first step was to seek advice from people who might have a stake in seeing a freedom monument created in our state.

Other neighboring states have already erected a variety of statues and memorials in their capitals that reflect the progress of African Americans, but it was hoped that North Carolina would find a unique way to both honor the past and ensure a promising future.
In 2002, 50 community leaders from across the state gathered for a day-long meeting to develop a strategy that would take this grassroots idea to all parts of the state. Town meetings were then held from Asheville to Elizabeth City and culminated at a statewide conference in Raleigh that summer. Solid contact had been made with representative citizens of the state.

An early outgrowth of this grassroots activity was to reach school children with the spirit of the project. Thanks to additional funds from various foundations, individuals and arts agencies, a web-based curriculum focusing on well-known North Carolina African Americans and events have been developed in cooperation with the Department of Public Instruction. This curriculum is available to all teachers and can be adapted for all ages of children. It can be used in conjunction with school visits to the capital. The curriculum can be downloaded from the NCFMP website (www.ncfmp.org) and is available on CD. In 2004, the Paul Green Foundation made a significant donation to launch NCFMP as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. More about the project, board of directors, advisory board members and staff can be seen on the NCFMP website. Distinguished historian John Hope Franklin is chair of the resourceful advisory board.

An international search to identify artist to design and build the artwork began. A jury of distinguished artists, architects and other professionals assembled to judge proposed designs. Of the 108 entries from all over the world, the jury selected a Chapel Hill artist team – multimedia artist Juan Logan, landscape architect David Swanson and art historian Lyneise Williams. With information and ideas from the town meetings in a document entitled Communicating the Project’s Vision and Voice, the Logan team created a marvelous mixture of words and shapes, in stone and water, along walls and sloped walkways (Uphill Struggle), winding through a grove of trees, passing a reading bench (Literacy is Freedom) and coming to an amphitheater with quilt pattern seating – all of which express words and images of freedom.

The site in the state government complex provides both history lessons and contemplations about the future for all who visit here. It will both inspire visions of the struggles for freedom and spur optimism in the continuing quest by the many diverse individuals and disparate groups of persons who desire to participate fully in society. The “Freedom Grove,” as it may be called, is a fascinating design of a space that will attract students, scholars and sightseers alike, all drawn in by inviting entries, walkways and eye-catching points of interest. A visitor will want to learn more about the historical events and symbols of the numerous struggles for freedom. The challenging ideas and issues embedded in textual quotes will beg for answers in today’s context. There are remembrances of the underground railway and Jim Crow times, of school integration and breakthrough accomplishments by African American leaders, and there are places for today’s citizens to sit and contemplate the wonder of freedom (unfinished work). The park will be the site of public gatherings of all sorts – school children visits and picnics, docent tours, poetry readings, music events and celebrations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and other ceremonial events. All year programming of educational events will cause the students to the Monument again and again.

The immediate challenge, of course, is to find sources of funding. North Carolina’s political leaders have seen the value of this project. With support from several groups, an appropriation of $100,000 toward the fabrication and construction of the monument was approved in 2007 by the North Carolina State Legislature, passing the funds through the Department of Cultural Resources. This grant, and the excitement of the monument as an enduring place of great public interest, has stimulated the promise of private gifts, notably a $100,000 gift and an additional $100,000 challenge pledge from Paul Green, Jr., and his wife, Skip. The project’s board of directors plans to launch a statewide capital campaign in the coming months to raise the funds to construct and maintain the monument. The target figure is $3.5 million, which will include $2 million for the art work and construction, plus an additional $1 million for perpetual maintenance of the monument and ongoing programming for the community; additional money is budgeted for operations, including public relations and facilitating the capital campaign.

At the November 2007 board meeting a contract was signed with the Logan Team for the Schematic Design phase of the artwork. The fundraising consultant presented a strategic fundraising plan. Capital campaign co-liaisons Jaki Shelton Green and Marsha Warren were introduced. The meeting was also significant since it was the beginning of the newly enlarged 33-member Board that now represents all geographic areas of the state.
The North Carolina Freedom Monument – an idea that began as a personal inspiration and was engendered by Paul Green’s human rights legacy – has become a grassroots movement and is now in the process of becoming a special landmark in our State capital. The magnificent design has been chosen, the prime site is awaiting approval and now, fundraising is underway that will assure its completion.

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