Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum

United States Colored Troops re-enactors at the Battle of Forks Road historic site. Thumbnail and photo courtesy of Adam Alphin

United States Colored Troops re-enactors at the Battle of Forks Road historic site. Thumbnail and photo courtesy of Adam Alphin

On February 20, 1865, United States Colored Troops’ (USCT) regiments from North Carolina and Ohio fought against the Confederates in the Battle of Forks Road in Wilmington, NC, a Confederate stronghold. While the Union troops fought to preserve the United States, the stakes were higher for these men who were fighting a battle for their personal freedom and the freedom of their people. Many soldiers from the 35th, 36th, and 37th USCT regiments were former slaves from Southeastern NC who had escaped to enlist in the USCT in New Bern. The approximately 1,600 USCT ultimately defeated the Confederate Army in this battle, leading to the Confederacy’s fall in Wilmington. Among their ranks were three Medal of Honor recipients: Powhatan Beaty, Milton M. Holland, and Robert Pinn. In 2002, when the Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum (CAM) relocated to this land, it became the steward of the Battle of Forks Road historic site. Since that time, it has collaborated with USCT re-enactors, descendants, historians, and African American community leaders in hosting lectures and living history days that engage over 1,000 visitors annually. For this project they will collaborate with Durham-based artist Stephen Hayes to create a figurative cast bronze sculpture, with audio elements, that will honor this history. Stephen’s work – both thematically and aesthetically – appealed to CAM and its community partners because of its deep narrative roots in the African American experience. He will continue to engage community stakeholders throughout the rendering process, in addition to working with local youth and veterans during the casting process. This sculpture, the first figurative representative public artwork of African Americans in Wilmington’s built environment, will serve as a touchstone for continued storytelling and interpretation for years to come.