Louisvillian sculpture Ed Hamilton designs the ‘Spirit of Freedom’

The first national memorial to black Civil War veterans. Erected in 1998 in Washington, D.C.


Washington DC – Shaw – U Street Corridor: African-American Civil War Memorial

Spirit of Freedom, the African American Civil War Memorial, located at the eastern entrance of the U St/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro station at U Street and Vermont Avenue, NW, was dedicated on July 18, 1998. Designed by sculptor Ed Hamilton and architect Marc Doswell, under the commission of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the memorial honors the contributions of of black soldiers and sailors to the Union cause during the Civil War.

The memorial features a 9’1/2″ bronze sculpture with a front high-base relief of three infantry soldiers and a sailor, and a backside low relief of a family group as the soldier, a son, leaves for the war. The sculpture sits on a two foot tall, granite-clad base. Five surrounding granite
walls contain 166 burnished stainless steel plaques listing the names of 208,943 soldiers and sailors who served in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. The plaques are arranged by regiment. Included among the names are 7,000 white officers who served with the troops.

The memorial was initially proposed in a resolution by the Washington, D.C. City Council in 1991. In 1992, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton presented Resolution 320 to the House of Representatives, and it was signed into law four months later. A nonprofit organization, The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation, was formed to build the monument. Much of the $2.6 million in funding came from from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, as compensation for the disruption caused by subway construction. The land was donated by the U.S. National Park Service. The plaza was dedicated on Sept. 12, 1996. The monument was not completed at the time of its unveiling on July 18, 1998 because of construction delays. The complex was transferred to the National Park Service on October 27, 2004 and is managed by the National Mall and Memorial Parks of the NPS.

The greater U Street Historic District, roughly bounded by New Hampshire Avenue, Florida Avenue, 6th Street, R Street and 16th Street, in the Shaw neighborhood of northwestern Washington DC, is largely a Victorian-era neighborhood, made up of row houses constructed in response to the city’s high demand for housing following the Civil War and the growth of the federal government in the late 19th century. The area was predominately white and middle class until 1900, but as Washington became progressively more segregated, the U Street Corridor emerged as the city’s most important concentration of businesses and entertainment facilities owned and operated by blacks, becoming known as “Black Broadway” in its cultural heyday. The late 1960’s saw the neighborhood begin a fall into decline, marred by violence and drug tacking, that would last well into the revitalization and gentrification of the 1990’s.

Greater U Street Historic District National Register #98001557 (1998)


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