People and Places take us to Wilson this week, specifically east Wilson.
It is an area rich in African American history.
History that is now being remembered inside one of the most unique buildings you will ever see.
“It’s important that we remember the history of African Americans and the contributions they’ve made to our society,” said the Executive Director of Freeman Round House & African American Museum, William Myers.
That history is highlighted in the Round in Wilson.
“Those who have done great things, I want them remembered,” Myers said.
This is the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House and African American Museum.
Freeman, a Wilson native, built the home to help World War II veterans. Specifically black veterans.
“That house was built in 1946,” Myers explained. World War II ended in 1945. And G.I.’s who were coming home were having problems finding places to stay. So he wanted to start building houses.”
Freeman built the Round House with anything he could round up. Bottles, tree saplings, rocks and more can be seen in the walls. To get it to where it is today proved difficult.
“No it was not easy,” said Myers.
It was costly, too.
Something Executive Director William Myers found out when he stood before Wilson City Council to support moving the Round House to its current location.
“Well the challenge was made to me,” said Myers. They said, okay Bill Myers, if that’s such a good idea, where’s the money? I said I did not come with any money, I came with an endorsement.”
But after that, the Wilson community opened their wallets.
“We had money coming in $1, $10, $100,” said Myers.
And with the help of City Council, enough money was secured to move the Round House here.
Volunteers helped renovate it.
In 2001, the African American Museum opened inside.
“So this really became a community effort that people were glad to donate because the cause was good,” said Myers.
Over time, the museum outgrew the Round House.
Then, as they say, “what goes around, comes around.”
“So I went back to City Council again and said we need more space,” said Myers. We’ve got the space out here, we need another building.”
And in late 2018, the new 2,200 square foot facility opened just feet away from the Round House.
Both buildings now showcase Wilson’s African American heritage.
Heritage that includes Myers himself. The musician co-founded The Monitors in 1957. The group once included Grammy Award winning vocalist Roberta Flack.
“It’s not about me,” said Myers. It’s definitely not about me. I’m just so concerned that we don’t forget where we’ve come from, or forget those people who risked their lives.”
“He is a person of determination,” said Ann Boyd, a tour guide of the Round House. But at the same time, he also wanted to make sure that with all the rich history that was there that it wouldn’t be forgotten. So he made it a personal project to really get this done.
A personal project to make sure we all remember the sacrifices and accomplishments of African Americans in Wilson and beyond.
“They helped build Wilson,” said Myers. They helped build this state. They helped to build this nation.”