We’re tremendously excited about the still unscheduled 2023 opening of the International African American Museum. Long a dream in the making, it’s going to spark all kinds of opportunities to tell fuller stories of the journeys of enslaved Africans to America — and what happened after they got here.
The IAAM’s Center for Family History, for example, will offer unique help for Black families trying to fill in gaps and find connections in their histories. The museum’s nine galleries, interactive exhibits and theater promise to offer exciting, powerful experiences for visitors. Core exhibits will include more than 150 historic objects, 30 works of art, films and other interactive tools to bring history to life.
The museum will have an impact beyond the confines of its physical space. It will attract new visitors, who will spend money on hotels, in restaurants and in shops. Furthermore, the museum’s commanding physical presence will illustrate how Charleston, where 40% of Africans disembarked from slave ships, is now a national leader in reconciling our slaving past with today’s America.
Yet, many are becoming frustrated with the IAAM as it continues to raise millions from corporate donors and private citizens. The museum was supposed to open with pomp and circumstance last week. Instead, about all we hear is that there is a delay that could last months because of humidity and temperature issues in the new building that hugs the Cooper River. You’d think anybody building a new structure in Charleston, where you can slice humidity with a knife in the summer, would have intricate initial plans to keep the new building safe from the damp and heat. So we’re surprised weather conditions are being blamed for the delay.
The museum has long been a dream of former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who first outlined his vision in 2000. Two years later, a steering committee was formed to try to turn the dream into reality. In the years since, museum officials and board members have connected with dozens of corporations and hundreds of individuals to raise more than $100 million to support construction and outfitting of the museum. Just a few days ago, a Texas couple donated $1 million to name a gallery in the building for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a senior Democratic congressman from South Carolina who was the IAAM’s first board chair.
With all of its corporate and personal support, the museum needs to do a better job of communicating when it will open — or giving an updated timeline of what’s happening.
The IAAM should be happy that so many people want to know what’s happening and when it will open. But donors, fans and potential visitors want to make plans. So let’s hope the museum will promptly offer much more detail about its exciting future — sooner than later.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.