Freedman’s Memorial: A Place for Healing

Front entryway to the memorial. (Picture: Imani Chet Lytle)

How does an artist design a space that recognizes the victims of racial violence yet promotes healing? Is it even possible to produce a work of art that promotes peace while visually communicating the consequences of centuries of racial inequality and violence? As city leaders and activists come together across the nation to develop strategies to re-contextualize spaces that were once the home to monuments that glorified the Confederacy, Dallas, Texas can serve as a role model on how to successfully design a space that encourages healing.

Freedman’s Memorial is the ideal healing space.  Located at 2525 N Central Expressway, the Memorial commemorates the lives of more than 5,000 freed slaves who were buried in a once-forgotten cemetery. Freedman’s Cemetery was one of the largest Freedman Cemeteries in the Country. It was established as a burial ground for Dallas’ early African American population in 1861. The site represents the remnants of the once-thriving North Dallas community which from the Civil War to the 1970s was the largest segregated African American enclave in Dallas and one of the largest in the United States. 

In the mid-1990s the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture Public Art Program conducted a national search for artists to submit qualifications for consideration to design, fabricate and install a space dedicated to recognition of the destruction of the Freedman’s Cemetery. David Newton was selected. Freedman’s Memorial eloquently tells the story of an African man and woman, standing proud, strong, and healthy located in the two niches, on either side of the entryway arch. The free-standing figure on the left of the entrance, the “Sentinel” or “Warrior,” is dressed in clothes inspired by the Benin culture of West Africa. He holds a large ceremonial machete with its blade pointed to the ground. His female counterpart, the “Prophetess,” holds a small harp to her chest with her left hand. On the other side of the arch within the memorial garden, two bronze figures occupy the niches. Unlike the bronze free-standing works at the front of the archway, these works are bronze bas-reliefs. The figures emerge from a background that suggests the waves of an ocean. The female figure, the “Violated Soul,” whose wrists and feet are bound by shackles, covers her face with her hands. Her male counterpart, the “Struggling Soul,” is similarly shown with his wrists and feet bound by iron shackles; he covers his own scream with his bent left arm. Above each of the life-size bronze figures, in the top register of the arch, are twelve smaller bronze sculptures, suggestive of West African wood sculpture.

Some of the bronze figures located in the memorial. (Picture: Imani Chet Lytle)

Through the archway at the center of the memorial park, “Dream of Freedom,” sits atop a Texas Red granite circular plinth. The sculpture shows a newly emancipated couple. The male figure, whose shirtless torso is scarred by whip marks on his back, wraps his left arm around a kneeling woman. Directly behind “Dream of Freedom,” is a polished granite slab with Nia Akimbo’s poem, “Here.” Two remaining headstones from the original cemetery are embedded in the back of this granite slab.

At the base of each statue, bronze plaques list the artist, title of the sculpture, and description of the work. Embedded in the interior arched wall are bronze plaques with poetry by ten children from local schools, who won a local poetry contest. In the lawn, several Texas Red granite blocks have bronze plaques attached to them, identifying the original river bed and unmarked graves.

Freedman’s Cemetery is located at 2525 N Central Expy, Dallas, TX 75204. For more information about David Newton, visit his website at

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