Freedom Center mourns the loss of renowned historian Carl Westmoreland
Westmoreland was instrumental in founding and direction of museum
CINCINNATI — The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center joins friends and family in mourning the loss of renowned historian Carl Westmoreland. Westmoreland was a longtime supporter of the Freedom Center, advocating for its creation and serving as its historian for nearly 20 years.
“It is impossible to measure Mr. Westmoreland’s impact on our institution and our local and global community,” said Woodrow Keown, Jr., president and COO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “His wisdom and his passion for storytelling revealed a history of pain and perseverance, struggle and stoicism, agency and action. His impact will forever be felt within the Freedom Center and in a community he has been so instrumental in educating.”
Westmoreland was one of the first Black scholars to serve on the National Trust for Historic Preservation. His work included research on the history of the internal slave trade in America and the historic role class, gender, race and enslavement have played within contemporary political, social and economic issues.
Before the Freedom Center opened its doors in 2004, Westmoreland was shaping its message. When shown early designs for a marble exterior, he objected, saying African Americans have never known a smooth journey. The iconic rough, rugged marble exterior of the Freedom Center as we know it is emblematic of the African American journey, and Westmoreland’s passion for telling our history in its raw detail.
He also discovered and helped restore one of the Freedom Center’s most powerful artifacts: a slave pen. Westmoreland slept in the slave pen at night to feel what it was like to be in such a situation, to lose one’s identity and humanity. He brought that same emotion when he shared its history with groups of students or museum guests. He believed in the power of history and the importance of feeling those moments.
Westmoreland was also, and importantly, a mentor to scores of Freedom Center staff over his nearly 20 years with the institution. He was an advocate and a champion for those around him, offering invaluable support and wisdom to museum professionals, historians and educators navigating the dark, painful moments of American history, and to Black professionals navigating a culture in America that required them to often work harder for less.
“Mr. Westmoreland was a community organizer, preservationist and a distinguished voice of the ancestors who endured enslavement and oppression,” said Chris Miller, senior director of education and community engagement for the Freedom Center. “He challenged and inspired us to use historical accounts, that are often uncomfortable, as a constructive tool to bring perspective and resolution to diverse communities. He was an intellectual force that has left a lasting impact on Cincinnati and beyond.”
About the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in August 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Since then, more than 1.3 million people have visited its permanent and changing exhibits and public programs, inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom. Two million people have utilized educational resources online at freedomcenter.org, working to connect the lessons of the Underground Railroad to inform and inspire today’s global and local fight for freedom. Partnerships include Historians Against Slavery, Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, US Department of State and International Justice Mission. In 2014, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center launched a new online resource in the fight against modern slavery, endslaverynow.org.