Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas, Texas

Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas, Texas

I see these stunning sculptures, at the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery, with its pinkish granite enclosure and green space every time I exit the North Central Expressway by Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, Texas, to get to my condo. What is today part of the neighborhood of Uptown Dallas, was once known as Freedman’s Town, a settlement established by African Americans,  just outside of Dallas proper.

Freed slaves settled near the Houston & Texas Central Railway tracks – now the North Central Expressway around the 1850s and formed Freedman’s Town. The area was the social and economic center of the African-American community at the time. Freedman’s Cemetery, which served as the only public burial ground for the former slaves residing in the Dallas area, was established in 1869. However, the cemetery closed in the 1920s and suffered from neglect and vandalism. By the 1930s-40s the construction of Central Expressway and an intersection eliminated most of the remaining above-ground reminders of the cemetery.

In the late 1980s, efforts to expand the city’s Central Expressway led members of the local community, including descendants of those buried in the cemetery, to wage a successful campaign to halt freeway construction long enough for an archeological survey and excavations of the cemetery and the relocation of those interred within it. Between 1991-94, an archeological investigation uncovered more than 1,000 graves, which were carefully relocated, and the local community constructed the memorial.

The arched pink granite gate stands as the entrance to memorial. Niches on either side of the entrance are graced by striking and symbolic statues created by artist and sculptor David S. Newton that tell the epic story of African Americans from slavery to freedom. Poems around the perimeter of the granite gate commemorate the individuals and families buried at the cemetery.

The walkway from the gated marble entrance of the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas of the back of the sculpture with a free black man man holding and consoling a free black woman. On the man’s back are the horrible reminders of slavery, the scars left from being flogged. The moving sculpture is by a large granite etched with the poem “Here” by Nia Akimbo.
The historical plaque next to the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas commemorates the African American individuals and families buried at the cemetery. And, most importantly it stands as a testament to the life and struggles of freed slaves who sought to make a living, a home and a community for themselves and their families during the brutality still being inflicted on Black people during the Reconstruction of the 1860s.
A portal through the arch at the front of the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas is flanked by two dramatic figures–an African warrior called “The Sentinel” and a female shaman who is the “oral historian” of the people buried here.
At the front and entrance to the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas are two dramatic figures set into alcoves to the sides of the arched entrance. This is the close up of the regal African warrior, which is called “The Sentinel.” A plaque below the statue calls this piece THE SENTINEL by David Newton in 1999 and states: “Symbolic guardian protecting the site from disrespect or harm. His attire is based on Benin culture of West Africa.”
At the front and entrance to the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas are two dramatic figures set into alcoves to the sides of the arched entrance. This female shaman is the “oral historian” of the people buried here. A plaque below the statue calls this piece THE PROPHETESS by David Newton in 1999 and states: “Symbolic of an African oral historian keeping the knowledge and memory of her ancestors alive.”
There are several poems on plaques around the inside of the granite gate of the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas.
This powerful sculpture, in lieu of gravestones at the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas, portrays a free man holding and consoling a free woman in front of a large granite monument etched with the poem “Here” by Nia Akimbo. A plaque below the statue calls this piece DREAM OF FREEDOM by David Newton in 1999 and states: “Symbolic of a newly emancipated couple contemplating the death and suffering of their ancestors.”
One of two sculptures just inside the arch of the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas is this one of an enslaved black woman covering her face in shame. A plaque below the statue calls this piece VIOLATED SOUL by David Newton in 1999 and states: “Symbolic of the violation of African women and the degrading nature of slavery, covered faces represents the loss of personal identity experienced by enslaved persons.”
One of two sculptures just inside the arch of the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas of a black man struggling against the chains of enslavement. A plaque below the statue calls this piece THE STRUGGLING SOUL by David Newton in 1999 and states: “Symbolic of the enslaved African’s resistance to slavery, and their constant struggle for freedom, watery background represents the Atlantic Middle Passage unique to the American slave trade.”
Although there are no headstones at the Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas, there are two markers. This gravestone was found by workers developing the land. It is now a part of a large granite monument etched with the poem “Here” by Nia Akimbo. The headstone is for Emma McCune, daughter of Mary McCune, who was born June 29, 1855 and died at the age of 48 on May 5, 1903. The inscription reads: “Gone from our home but not from our hearts.”

For more information on the sculptor David S. Newton, please see his website at: www.davidsnewtonsculptor.com

An exhibition entitled “Facing the Rising Sun” that tells the story of the Freedman’s Cemetery can be found at the African American Museum of Dallas.

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