The Voices of Freedom is an inspiring compilation of quotes that resonates with the enduring spirit of African American North Carolinians who emerged as trailblazers in the pursuit of equality, civil rights, and societal transformation. This collection encapsulates the powerful and eloquent words of visionaries who, against the backdrop of adversity, emerged as leaders and change-makers in North Carolina's history. 

Through their wisdom and unwavering determination, they not only shattered the chains of oppression but also paved the way for a more just and inclusive society. Each quote encapsulates a unique perspective, reflection, or a stirring call to action, reminding us of the strength that arises from unity and the tireless pursuit of justice. 

The Voices of Freedom stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of these remarkable individuals, reminding us that their struggles and achievements continue to inspire generations, fueling the ongoing journey towards a more equitable future.

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The goal is a public art tribute to freedom as expressed through the African American Experience. It will be called North Carolina Freedom Park and will be located in the heart of the state capital as a continuing reminder of the struggles for freedom – and how much more we need to do to achieve equity and justice in our society. - John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), historian

The distinguished historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin, was a professor at Chicago and Duke Universities. In 1995 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the author of The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860; From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans; and The Emancipation Proclamation. He was a founding member and chair of the Board of Advisors of North Carolina Freedom Monument/ Park.

There is another peculiarity about the people of North Carolina.... There seems to be more of the unquenchable fire of freedom in the eyes of these people than in those of any other people we have visited.

An observation made by editor Hamilton as he visited recently emancipated areas of the South near the end of the Civil War.

I can’t breathe

A Minneapolis police officer put his knee and the full weight of his body on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds causing his death. That horrific tragedy was recorded on social media and was seen around the nation and the world. It ignited powerful, diverse, and widespread protest demonstrations and started an international movement against police killings and systemic racism.

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?

David Walker was born free in Wilmington, North Carolina. He left the state in 1825 and moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he was active in the movement to end slavery. He also was an agent for the nation’s first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal. He is best know for being the author of a fiery book against slavery called, Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World.. It was published in 1829 and he died the next year. The quote is taken from that book.

When they told me my new born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women.

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina. As a young woman and mother of two, she managed to escape from slavery and sexual exploitation by hiding in her grandmother’s attic for seven years and then making her way north to the free states. Her life illustrates some of the special hardships, obstacles, dangers, and obligations with which enslaved women had to deal. She wrote a powerful autobiography called, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, using the pen name, Linda Brent. The quote is taken from that book.

The colored woman of to-day occupies, one may say, a unique position.... She is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem.

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was a brilliant student at St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute and Oberlin College in Ohio where she earned a masters degree in mathematics. She did further graduate study at Columbia University and the Sorbonne in Paris where she earned a doctorate degree. She was an educator and a strong advocate for the rights of black people in general and of black women in particular. She was the author an important and influential book entitled, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, from which the quote is taken.

At the appearance of our troops the people gathered. I noticed an old man and woman singing and giving God the praise to see this day! They thanked God that the day had come when they were not to be driven to market to be sold as sheep. The children shouted and clasped their hands. I was indeed speechless.

John W. Pratt was an orderly sergeant for Company E, 30th Regiment, U.S.C.T. The quote is taken from a letter that he wrote to the Christian Recorder newspaper.

You might as well talk of the safety of a flock of sheep with a pack of hungry to take the ballot from the colored man.... We expect to maintain the right of suffrage, at whatever cost.

The Reverend James Walker Hood came to North Carolina in 1863, while the Civil War was still raging, to help establish the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination in this state. He was elected President of the statewide Colored Peoples Convention that was held in Raleigh in 1865. He also served as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention in 1868, and as the state’s Assistant Superintendent of Education the following year. Later in life, Hood became a bishop of the AME Zion Church and a founder of Livingstone College in Salisbury.

That audacious belief of our people - that in most ordinary men and women there reside the most extraordinary possibilities, and that, if we keep the doors of opportunity open to them, they will amaze us with their achievements.

James Shepard was born in Raleigh and attended Shaw University. In 1910 he founded the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, which later became the Durham State Normal School, and then North Carolina College for Negroes. The educational institution that he founded and led for nearly 40 years is now North Carolina Central University.

My philosophy is that position or place can never segregate mind or soul. I sit in the Jim Crow car, but my mind keeps company with the kings and queens I have known.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was born in Henderson, North Carolina, but she grew up and was educated in Massachusetts. In 1901 she returned to her native state to teach at a school for black children in Sedalia. The next year she founded her own school the Palmer Memorial Institute. The boarding school became renowned as an excellent college preparatory school, one of the few such institutions in the nation for black students. Palmer Memorial Institute is now a historic site maintained by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

On my way here I got gunned down in Georgia, I was bombed in Sunday school in Alabama, we were shot in the back in Mississippi, I came across the bridge beaten and bleeding.... I came by the funeral of Martin Luther King, the body of Malcolm X.... I came by tent cities for poor people.... But more important, I AM STILL COMING.

Although he was born in South Carolina, Golden Frinks grew up in Tabor City, North Carolina. After service in the military in World War II, Frinks continued to fight for freedom here in this state. His record as a fearless and tireless civil rights leader caused Martin Luther King, Jr. to select him to serve as Field Secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in North Carolina. Because of the many protest demonstrations that he led, Frinks was jailed 87 times and became known as “The Great Agitator.” His home in Edenton has been acquired as a historic site by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The battle for freedom begins every morning.

John H. Wheeler was born on the campus of Kittrell College in Kittrell North Carolina, where his father served as college president. In 1935 be became one of the founders of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs and served as president of that organization for many years. In 1952 he became the president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson consulted with him on Civil Rights matters. A federal courthouse in Durham was named in his honor in 2019.

I am looking for the rising generation. ....there must be a deep foundation laid for the coming generation.

Abraham Galloway was born into slavery in Smithville, North Carolina, but escaped to freedom in the North when he was a young man. Galloway served as a spy and a recruiter for the Union Army during the Civil War. He met with Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and served as a delegate to North Carolina’s Constitutional Convention in 1868. He also was elected to serve two terms in the state Senate. Galloway’s remarkable life ended in 1870 due to illness when he was just 33 years old.

It has taken me almost a lifetime to discover that true emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past, in deriving my strength from all my roots, in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.

Although born in Baltimore, Pauli Murray was raised by her grandparents in Durham, North Carolina. After graduating from Hunter College in New York, Murray was denied admission to the University of North Carolina Law School because of her race. She studied law at Howard University where she was the only woman in her class. She was also first black person to earn a Doctor of the Science of Law degree from the Yale Law School. Throughout her life Murray fought for Civil Rights and to expand rights and opportunities for women. In 1966, she was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women. In 1977 she became the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her family home in Durham has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind

Although born in Virginia, Ella Baker grew up in Littleton, North Carolina. She attended Shaw University where she graduated as class valedictorian in 1927. Murray was renowned for her effectiveness as a grassroots organizer for Civil Rights. She organized many branches of the NAACP in the South, and then served executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She is perhaps best known for being guiding spirit for the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which took place on the campus of Shaw University in 1960.

We have to defend what we have gained. We can try to isolate ourselves from those less fortunate, but there will always be something holding us back until all our people are given their full rights

Julius L. Chambers was born in Mount Gilead, North Carolina. He graduated summa cum laude from North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central). He also graduated first in his class from the University of North Carolina School of Law. He was a brilliant and effective Civil Rights attorney and a founding member of the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. During the time that his firm brought suit to integrate public schools in Charlotte, his office, home and car were firebombed. During his distinguished and courageous career, Chambers served as Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Chancellor of North Carolina Central University, and Director of UNC’s Center for Civil Rights.

My father passed the torch to me, which I have never let go out.

Lyda Moore Merrick was born in Durham, North Carolina. Her father was Aaron McDuffie Moore, the first black medical doctor in Durham, and her father-in-law was John Merrick, who along with her father founded the North Carlina Mutual Life Insurance Company. She was greatly admired and respected for her work with the Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, the Durham Colored Library, and with church groups. She was the founding editor of The Negro Braille Magazine, the only magazine of its kind in the nation.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou was the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina from 1982 until her death in 2014. She was a renowned writer, dancer, actor, poet, educator and activist. She worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011. She was a consultant for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, and was a strong supporter of the North Carolina Freedom Park. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) was the title of her first autobiography.

We want our children and our grandchildren to march towards full lives and noble characters.... And for that we got to be free, freedom of the soul and freedom of the mind.... Freedom! Freedom!

Paul Green was born in North Carolina and made his home in Chapel Hill. In addition to being a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, he was also a tireless advocate of social and racial justice. In Abraham’s Bosom is about the valiant but ultimately tragic effort of a black man in the post-Reconstruction South to uplift his community through education. The Paul Green Foundation initiated, nurtured and developed the North Carolina Freedom Monument/Park.

Anything is possible. Just think about how the forced migration brought us here and all the struggles we’ve faced and continue to face. Look at what we have been able to achieve as a people!

Phil Freelon was a world renowned architect. His firm, the Freelon Goup, was located in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina. He made his home in Durham. His works include the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. He is best known for being the principal architect of the magnificent National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. In 2014 the Freelon Group was acquired by Perkins and Will, a global architectural firm. The North Carolina Freedom Park was one of Mr. Freelon’s last projects. He remained deeply committed to it until his death due to ALS in 2019.