International African American Museum in Charleston Attracts Support from Philanthropy

“Went down to the rocks to hide my face. The rocks cried out, no hiding place,” Elizabeth Alexander, Director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, said, contemplating the African American biblical phrase at a recent event in support of the International African American Museum. She continued, “I don’t think that the ground on which we walk stays silent forever. I think that actually the ground has to speak, and now there is a moment where people are realizing that this is a story that needs to be narrated, needs to be spoken.”

The International African American Museum (IAAM) is being designed to give voice to the sacred land of Gadsden’s Wharf, and to the stories of the men, women and children whose lives are intrinsically tied to that hallowed ground. 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 IAAM and one of the most significant and sites of the African American experience in the Western hemisphere.

The museum, a $75 million project, is just $7 million away from reaching its fundraising goal, which it aims to accomplish by the end of 2017. With the funds secured, the museum will break ground in early 2018 and open in 2020. 

As President Carter said, “The tragedy, struggle and triumph of enslaved Africans coming to this country represent a very important chapter in our nation’s history, especially because those Africans and their descendants have contributed so greatly to the progress and culture of our country. There is no more relevant place in American in which to tell this story than Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina.”

The IAAM will present unvarnished history and culture, commemorate and celebrate the foundational role that Africans and their descendants played in the making of America, and highlight their diasporic connections around the world. It will include immersive, interactive exhibits engaging to all ages and feature the Center for Family History, a leading genealogy archive that will help visitors identify their individual threads in the complex tapestry of history.

The most substantial investment from a private donor to date – $10 million – came to the museum this fall from the Lilly Endowment.

“The IAAM is establishing a museum and memorial gardens that will tell and preserve many important stories about the contributions of Americans of African descent to our national life,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, “We are pleased that that the grant will support the IAAM in lifting up the role that religion and spirituality has played in shaping these stories and support outreach to religious communities.”

For more information about the museum, view this short video, visit the IAAM website or request a digital information book from the author at


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