After crossing the Mississippi River Bridge and turning right on the way into Downtown Helena, Freedom Park is the second civil war related site you will encounter. This beautiful park is located on the site of a Civil War Contraband camp. Contraband was the name give early in the war to African Americans who fled into Union lines in search of freedom. Before the national government passed laws regarding these men and women it was left up to local Union officers to deal with. Generals like Samuel Curtis declared these freed people contraband, which was anything or anyone used by the enemy and so would not be returned. From that point onward thousands of men, women and children made their way to Helena because they knew they would be safe. Eventually a camp was established just south of Helena and these families built cabins and shelter to live. Many would work within the Union lines or on controlled farms just outside the lines. Starting in 1863 thousands of African Americans began to enlist in the Union army. Hundreds of them came from this camp alone. Freedom Park tells the story of these brave African American men and women during the Civil War.
Freedom Park is a relatively new outside historical site. It is controlled by the Delta Cultural Center so Freedom Park is part of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. Five exhibits explore the experiences of refugee slaves who came to Helena in search of freedom and a life of self determination. Freedom Park is a self guided site, but guided tours may be requested. The park is handicap accessible, has free parking, and there is bus parking. Freedom Park is a designated site on the National Underground Railroad to Freedom.
One of the first exhibits tells the story of the encampment itself and the struggles African Americans faced in getting to Helena.
Footprints in the walkway symbolize that struggle.
At first African Americans who joined the United States army were classified as state troops. The First Arkansas Infantry of African Descent was organized entirely in Helena and half of the Second Arkansas of African Descent came from here. Later in the war these units were renumbered and placed under national control as United States Colored Troops. The park tells the story of these men. The First Arkansas became famous for a song they sang on the march.
On July 4, 1863 the Battle of Helena occurred. Part of this engagement took place along the Lower Little Rock road which ran through the site of Freedom Park. The Second Arkansas of African Descent held the line along this road. They covered a section of artillery.
Freedom Park is open year round and daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.