Politics & Government

Could a memorial to African-Americans finally make its way onto the Capitol grounds?

Stalled plans for African-American memorials envisioned for Raleigh’s state government center are getting new attention with the recent focus on Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds.

As the state Historical Commission declined last week to recommend moving three Confederate statues, it promised new efforts to get money for an African-American monument on the Capitol grounds that has been discussed for years but never funded.

At the same time, planners of a separate, privately-funded projected called Freedom Park that’s envisioned for the corner of Wilmington and Lane streets near the Legislative Building hope that the renewed spotlight on memorials will spur its fundraising.

Historical Commission studies of the Union Square monuments go back years. In 2010, three committees studied commemorations to African-Americans, Native Americans and women, according to a state document.

In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, wanted the Historical Commission to endorse an African-American monument, The N&O reported. The state held eight public hearings in 2016 where residents offered suggestions on memorial themes and individuals to honor, according to a state summary.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, put money for the monument in his budget recommendations — $200,000 in the 2017-18 budget and $1.8 million in the 2018-19 budget. Republican legislators did not include the monument spending in their budgets.

But after the Historical Commission rejected the Cooper administration suggestion to move three Confederate statues, legislative leaders appeared ready to move forward with an African-American monument. The offices of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger did not respond to emailed questions on Tuesday, but Berger told WNCN this week that he would support budget funding for a monument. And in a statement last week, Moore said he supported the Historical Commission’s recommendations.

One of those recommendations called on the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to “plan, design and raise the funds for the construction of one or more additional monuments on Capitol Square to memorialize the accomplishments and contributions of North Carolina’s African Americans” and for the governor and the legislature to work together on getting one or more monuments constructed for the Capitol grounds “without delay.”

Freedom Park has been in the works even longer, since 2002, The N&O has reported.

Duke University historian John Hope Franklin and former UNC President Bill Friday, both now deceased, were involved in park plans in the early years, Goldie Wells, NC Freedom Park board of directors co-chairwoman, said in an interview

The board has raised $1.1 million toward the $3.5 million it needs to break ground, said Wells, who is also a member of the Greensboro City Council. The board hopes that the Historical Commission recognizing the need for more monuments will help advance the private project.

Wells said the state needs both the Union Square monument and Freedom Park, which is being designed by Durham architect Phil Freelon’s firm.

“We’re closer to reality than ever before,” Wells said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner