“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.