Wilson cut the ribbon on the Oliver N. Freeman Round House and Museum of African-American History Sunday. I was blessed with the opportunity to draft most of the text accompanying the permanent exhibit and to curate much of the content. I’m so happy and so proud and so honored and so humbled. Preserving and presenting the history of the community that raised me is my ministry.
… “Oh? I’m on the program?”
I was too geeked about the museum to think straight enough to rehearse something, so I just let my heart speak. I said that I was born at all-black Mercy Hospital just before it closed. I was born on the cusp of segregation and integration — Wilson as it was and as it would be. Though I have not lived in Wilson for more than 30 years, something powerful that I had absorbed on Carolina Street, where I spent my first decade, or Queen Street, where my father grew up, or Elba Street, where my grandmother grew up, had stayed with me. I began to curate Black Wide Awake in 2015 as a way to preserve and present the stories of the people and places of home. Since then, I’ve gained as much I’ve given, including the singular honor of contributing to and creating for the Round House museum. I’m honored and deeply grateful, I said.
Photo by Janelle Booth Clevinger.
Congressman G.K. Butterfield, Jr., friend and neighbor, son of East Wilson, took the mic and gave tribute to the real MVP, William E. “Bill” Myers, whose tenacious vision over nearly two decades bent larger Wilson toward doing right by the historical and cultural legacy of our side of the tracks. Mr. Myers was feeling a little under the weather and could not be present, but surely felt the waves of love and appreciation rolling toward him from Nash Street.
George K. Butterfield, Jr., United Stated House of Representatives. (And The Monitors? Well, get to know them.)
With that, Michael E. Myers, Board chairman Ken Jones, and the Freeman family cut the ribbon, and the community stepped into the full flower of the renovated Round House and Museum.
East Wilson bona fides: in the museum’s foyer, W. and C., two of Bill Myers’ grandsons. Both are descendants of Judith Davis, Rev. Fred M. Davis, William B. Davis and Parker Battle. In addition, W. is descended from “Picture-Taking” George W. Barnes and Benjamin Mincey.
The Round House itself is now largely dedicated to the life and accomplishments of Oliver N. Freeman.
Before the crowd arrives.
A little interactive oral history.
The medical history of East Wilson.
Please support the Freeman Round House and African-American Museum. Admission is free, but donations are vital to this small institution’s mission and are much appreciated.
1202 Nash Street East, Wilson, North Carolina
A couple of weeks ago, the Freeman Round House African-American History Museum broke ground on its new exhibition hall. When I was in Wilson last weekend, workmen — the occupational descendants of Oliver and Julius Freeman — were pouring cement for the hall’s foundation. The addition is being developed by a professional design team, and I look forward to seeing the museum’s holdings displayed and interpreted in their brand-new facility!
The Round House and Oliver Freeman’s famous concrete dinosaur, which once stood in his front yard.
Please support the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House Museum as it begins to expand its walls.
The Round House preserves, promotes, and presents African-American history, art, and culture to all citizens of Wilson, NC and its surrounding region. From community trailblazers to nationally known personalities, the museum strives to increase awareness and appreciation of the numerous contributions that local people of color have made to society.
The Round House building was constructed by Oliver Nestus Freeman, who was born in 1882 in Wilson County to former slaves. He was educated at the Tuskegee Normal School in Alabama and returned to Wilson to build houses, including a number designed to help alleviate the shortage of affordable housing for soldiers returning from World War II. Freeman’s services were especially sought out for his fine stonework.
The museum’s expansion plans will allow it to showcase Freeman’s unique stone three-room round house, as well as offer additional exhibition space, a community conference room, and a resource center.
Please consider giving during The Round House’s fundraising campaign.