By Barney Blakeney
“It ain’t over. It ain’t over,” are the lyrics signaling continuation of a song by R&B singer/producer Teddy Riley that seemingly was at its end. Those lyrics are appropriate for the continuing fundraising for the International African American Museum thought to have been completed last year.
Last September IAAM President/CEO Michael B. Moore announced the museum’s construction fundraising campaign goal of $75 million had been met. The project which began as a concept of former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. in 2000 originally was estimated to cost about $60 million. Over the years, the project’s cost increased to about $75 million.
Moore, in his fourth year as president/CEO, said he and the IAAM board performed ongoing cost estimations, “but the price got higher,” he said. That price has risen to about $92 million. About $89 million already has been raised. Moore said groundbreaking for construction is slated for late October. Rather than making cuts in the project scope, they’ve made cost effective decisions that won’t diminish visitors’ experience. That experience hopefully, he said, will be informative, engaging, educational and inspirational.
Chief Curator Joy Bivens said the extra time the additional fundraising required affords additional opportunities to develop the museum’s story that will be told through permanent and visiting collections. It’s not just about opening, but building an infrastructure that facilitates 21st century dialogue, she said.
Nearly half of all enslaved Africans forced to America through the Transatlantic Slave Trade arrived in Charleston, and the vast majority disembarked at Gadsden’s Wharf, the future home of the International African American Museum. The IAAM, a museum, memorial and site of conscience, will present unvarnished history and culture, commemorate and celebrate the foundational role that Africans and their descendants played in the making of America. It will include immersive, interactive exhibits engaging to all ages and feature the Center for Family History, a genealogy archive that will help visitors identify their individual threads in the complex tapestry of history.
Director of Education and Engagement Brenda Tindal said much of that work already has begun. Through interfaces with various partnerships the IAAM will be a museum without walls. The museum’s already launched its Common Grounds and Volunteer Engagement initiatives. Public programs like the May 9 collaboration with the College of Charleston gathered more than 300 people to hear celebrated scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discuss his newest documentary, “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War.”
Gates discussed the importance of the Reconstruction Era, which began as the Civil War ended and lasted from 1865 to 1877. He said, “Reconstruction was about who gets to be American,” and explained that the roots of the racial tension and inequity our country continues to experience date back to Reconstruction. “We are going through now what happened before. We have been here before. We have to join together to keep our heads and not allow divisive forces to distract us.” Noting Charleston’s central role in African American history Gates said, “I wanted to do an event in Charleston. This is the only event I asked for. Charleston was ground zero for Reconstruction.”
Moore said preliminary site work for the two-year construction should begin mid-July and be completed by fall 2021. For information about joining as charter members of the museum or employment opportunities, go to iaamuseum.org.