Freedman’s Memorial Park and Cemetery in Dallas, Texas
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."
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.
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.