Phil Freelon, Architect of African-American History Museum, Dies at 66

Freelon had suffered from ALS for several years

Phil Freelon, the architect behind the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, died in Durham, North Carolina, on Tuesday at age 66.

“This morning Phillip Goodwin Freelon joined the ancestors,” the Freelon family said in a message on the North Star Church of the Arts Facebook page.

Freelon was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, before the museum he designed opened. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis attacks motor neurons, the cells that control the muscles.

He helped raise awareness for the condition by starting a foundation called “Design a World Without ALS”, which raised money to research the disease and help support those living with it. It was one of many humanitarian endeavors Freelon undertook in his lifetime.

Freelon was a Philadelphia native, and worked for years in Texas and North Carolina at architectural firms, according to the Associated Press.

He eventually founded his own architectural firm, the Freelon Group, where he was the only employee at the time. He focused on libraries, museums and schools, refusing to design prisons, casinos or shopping malls.

“I like to do projects that enhance the lives of everyday people, like campus buildings, libraries, museums and government buildings,” Freelon said during a 2015 interview with NBC News. “I like to create beauty in everyday lives. That’s why the Smithsonian museum linking back to my own culture is more fulfilling. From jazz to hip-hop, African-American culture is everywhere.”

In addition to the African-American History museum, Freelon is behind the designs for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Emancipation Park in Houston, multiple library projects for the Washington D.C. Public Library System and the Durham County Human Services Complex in North Carolina.

Freelon also received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and was appointed to the National Commission of Fine Arts by President Obama.

Freelon told NBC News his African American heritage made his design of the African-American History Museum a special achievement.

“I can’t imagine a more rewarding or fulfilling project at this point in my career and my life really,” he said.

According to the Freelon family’s statement, his memorial service will take place in the fall.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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