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Efforts To Construct Proposed African American Museum Boosted As Funding Structure Changes
10/30/2013 1:41:19 PM

The exhibition features eight distinct chapters that guide visitors through the African American story. Visitors begin in West Africa in the 17th century, and end with the formation of new African American communities in the 21st century. Photo courtesy of IAAM Exhibition Galleries

By Barney Blakeney

Last week Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley and members of the International African American Museum Board of Directors and Charleston City Council announced efforts to open the museum by 2018 will be boosted. In 2000 Riley presented the concept for the museum he envisioned would document, preserve, interpret, present and promote African American History.

Kim, the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, said the museum was proposed when her daughter was a toddler. When it is scheduled to open, her daughter should be a sophomore in college.

For many in the African American community like Kim, the two decades it will take to open the museum that is yet unfunded seems extraordinary. They ask, “Will it ever open? Are city officials really serious about the proposal?”

Progress in the development of the project has been slow. Originally estimated to cost about $60 million, the project languished in concept for two years until 2002 when a steering committee was organized.

One Charleston City Councilman speaking confidentially said the city’s administration gave evidence of the project’s priority as several multimillion dollar municipal projects were begun and completed over the past decade.

All those projects were specifically funded through municipal resources. The African American museum however was designated to be funded totally with private donations.

That’s changed with the announced boost in efforts. The project that was reduced in scope by about $10 million a year ago, now is estimated to cost about $75 million and will be funded two-thirds through public sources and one-third through private donations.

Riley said the City of Charleston and Charleston County will be asked to contribute $25 million and the State of South Carolina will be asked to contribute another $25 million. The remaining funding will come from private sources, he said.

The museum will be at Calhoun and Concord streets adjacent to the National Park Service Liberty Square. NPS Ranger and Community Partnership Specialist Michael Allen said he is confident the museum will be built.

The time it’s taking to go from concept to concrete isn’t unusual for a project of the museum’s magnitude, Allen said. The City of Charleston has been methodical in moving the project forward, though for most lay people the process seems unusually extensive.

An estimated 40 percent of Africans brought to North America to be enslaved began their tortured lives in America at the port of Charleston. Gadsden’s Wharf on the banks of the Cooper River was their landing point on the North American shore. The wharf was at what now is the National Park Service Liberty Square. The museum is planned for location across from the center. Officials hope to begin construction in about two years.

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