Freedom Park lifts up heroic stories
Published September 6, 2023
By John Hood
The state government complex in Raleigh is home to a new park. Constructed on Lane Street between the legislative building and the governor’s mansion, North Carolina Freedom Park was designed by the late Phil Freelon of the architecture firm Perkins + Will.
A key feature of the acre-sized park is a sculpture entitled “Beacon of Freedom.” Standing 50 feet tall and lit at night, it is a “reminder that the ideals of perseverance, equality, and freedom are universal aspirations that can unite us all,” as the park website puts it.
Along the park’s walkways you’ll find 20 quotes from African-Americans with ties to North Carolina. I was particularly drawn to the words of four heroes whose stories deserve wider recognition. David Walker, for example, was born to a free woman in Wilmington in 1796. He moved to Charleston and then to Boston, where slavery had been abolished through litigation at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Walker married and ran clothing stores. But he never forgot the oppression he witnessed during his early years in the Carolinas. In 1827 he began working for a New York-based publication called Freedom’s Journal. It was the first black-owned newspaper in the United States.
Two years later, he wrote the now-famous Walker’s Appeal, which called for equal rights and the abolition of slavery. Here’s the quote you’ll find in North Carolina Freedom Park: “Now, Americans! I ask you candidly, was your suffering under Great Britain, one hundreth part as cruel and tyrannical as you have rendered ours under you?”
Harriet Jacobs was born in 1813 in Edenton. After her mother died, Harriet came under the care of her white owner’s daughter, who fatefully taught Harriet how to read and write. To escape her subsequent owner, a lustful and vengeful man, Jacobs hid for a while in a swamp, then in her grandmother’s attic for an astounding seven years before finally escaping to New York, where she also become a prominent abolitionist.
Her memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was published in 1861.
“When they told me my newborn babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before,” Jacobs wrote. “Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women.”
Born a slave in what is now Southport, Abraham Galloway became a skilled brick mason and joined a thriving community of black craftsmen, sailors, and activists in antebellum Wilmington. He escaped to freedom in 1857 in the cargo hold of a schooner bound for Philadelphia.
Making his way via the Underground Railroad to Canada, Galloway soon became an active abolitionist. Later, he courageously returned south during the Civil War to work as a spy and recruiter for the Union Army. After the war, Abraham Galloway helped organize the new Republican Party in North Carolina, played a key role at the 1868 convention that drafted a new state constitution, and won election to the state Senate.
“I am looking for the rising generation,” his Freedom Park quote reads. “There must be a deep foundation laid for the coming generation.”
Another black leader who helped draft North Carolina’s 1868 constitution was James Walker Hood (no relation). Born free in Pennsylvania, Hood came south in 1863 to lead the AME Zion congregation in New Bern, which was by then controlled by Union troops. Later, he served as assistant state superintendent of public instruction and a state magistrate.
Walker also led churches in New Bern, Charlotte, and Fayetteville and was instrumental in founding what are now Livingstone College and Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury.
“You might as well talk of the safety of a flock of sheep with a pack of hungry wolves . . . as to take the ballot from the colored man,” Hood wrote. “We expect to maintain the right of suffrage, at whatever cost.”
North Carolina Freedom Park is a welcome testament to the struggle for liberty in our state and beyond.