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Walk through history: Fayetteville's African American Heritage Trail announces plans for revitalization and renewal

By Kate Griffin, posted Feb 15, 2024 on

The trail highlights specific historic landmarks and other areas with markers such as the one pictured above at Fayetteville State University - Photo by GFBJ

The African American Heritage Trail of Fayetteville has been a project in the works for over 20 years. In an effort to educate, contribute and monumentalize, the African American Heritage Trail offers guidance to visitors in an even more straightforward way as the trail undergoes new developments. 
The Fayetteville Cumberland Parks and Recreation is proud to announce a new revitalization to the trail, adding new signage, discovering and adding new landmarks and making educational and artistic strides in the community. 
“The African American Heritage Trail is something that’s historical,” said Michael Gibson, Fayetteville and Cumberland Parks and Recreation Director. “From the Linear Park, from the Cape Fear River Trail to the Little Cross Creek Trail, it’s all who we are. It's a beautiful testimony and for us to be able to recreate and memorialize that history so people will have it and when you come to this community you’ll be able to experience it, that’s our intent.” 
The African-American Heritage trail spans all over the town of Fayetteville, covering well over 20 different sites of history, with more in the works to be added over time. 
“We’ll be expanding and moving and identifying and doing more, it’ll evolve,” said Gibson. “It goes all over the place from Evans Metropolitan Zion Church on Coolspring Street to Orange Street School to Blunt Street to historical markers around town, so it’ll be challenging but that’s why the wayfinding [is there].” 
Some of the landmarks are physical historical buildings or sites, like the E.E. Smith Monument, Cross Creek Cemetery and the historical marker in Fayetteville State University. Other landmarks are sign markers, describing notable figures in Fayetteville history, like the Charles W. Chesnutt marker, the Henry Evans marker, the Hiram R. Revels marker and the Lewis Leary marker. 
Additional landmarks on the trail are featured in museums or other establishments, such as the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum and Fayetteville History Museum. 
“You look at a marker of 1760 or a marker of 1784, the biggest thing is you wonder what those people experienced that far back and how they adapted and lived in this community and thrived and got buried in this community,” said Gibson. “You always wonder, when dealing with history, how a person lived and the adventures that they had.”
The African American Heritage Trail has plans to interweave with Big Cross Creek Trail, Little Cross Creek Trail, Linear Park trails and others. The African American Heritage Trail sprawls all across Fayetteville, ensuring an adventure of learning for any visitors. 
“We’ll be adding trails, widening trails just so people feel comfortable moving around and navigating well,” said Gibson. “It doesn’t loop, it’s not like that. It’s landmarks, so there is no pattern to it.”
To provide clarity and direction, new signs are being put up around to help visitors better identify the landmarks and learn more about the history behind them. “All the information on that signage and placards and crosswalks it’ll be different, it’ll be something that this community [already had] flashes of, but this will be a concentrated effort,” said Gibson. “The signage is going to be a little funky and if you’re driving down the street you’ll be able to see them and go ‘Hmm that’s different what is that?’ especially if you’re walking, it will be able to give you tremendous information, it’ll help you understand where you’re going, it even allows you to understand how to get downtown all the way to Methodist.” 
The African American Heritage Trail also incorporates programs and community efforts in addition to historical sites. The trail highlights the Umoja Group’s ‘Wall of Honor’ on Langdon Street. Plans for adding a new tile mosaic to that wall are in the works as well. The Orange Street School is a prominent landmark on the trail, which is undergoing renovation for the Fayetteville-Cumberland Youth Council Program’s ventures in creating an arts and STEM project, offering opportunities for children more inclined to those areas. 
Within the Orange Street School’s renovations are plans for a museum area for all of the site’s historical artifacts being discovered. “So when you walk into that building you get that feel and all that history, plus that environment where kids are learning,” said Gibson about the Orange Street School. 
Businesses of Fayetteville can be involved in this project as well via the adoption programs via the Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation website. The FCPR has many options for donors to credit their contributions. 
“Everyone talks about livable environments…so being blessed to have funding from the state to go ahead and do this and having our city council supporting it is a major thing for this community so we don’t take it lightly, we intend to do the right thing,” said Gibson. 
The African American Heritage 
Trail memorializes the dedication and perseverance of Fayetteville’s Black community throughout the centuries. In addition to the education of the public, it also incorporates beneficial programs to the community and revitalization. 
“It’s all about contribution. This community was built on diversity, this 
community was built on people eventually getting along and developing a place where they could live and thrive and raise their children,” said Gibson. “Just like any other community working toward that livability, how people existed, that’s the biggest thing history teaches you.”

You can learn more about the The African American Heritage Trail online at 

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