The shooting deaths of nine black people by a suspect who is an avowed white supremacist at Emanuel AME Church have underscored the need for the International African American Museum, said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
And he’s redoubling his fundraising efforts, expecting to bring in the majority of $75 million in donations or pledges required to build it by the time he leaves office in January.
Riley also said that organizers always had planned to include an exhibit on the role of the church in African-American history. Now that exhibit also will include a focus on the tragedy and the role of Emanuel AME.
“An act of racial hatred makes clear the need for this museum,” Riley said. “It’s needed so all of us will have the chance to understand.”
Riley for years has been championing the project on the site of the former Gadsden’s Wharf on the Cooper River, an entry point for more than 100,000 slaves during its lifetime. He said in his final State of the City address in January that the museum will tell the story of “three centuries of tragedy, struggle and triumph” about which we know so little.
The Rev. Joseph Darby, presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the AME Church, said any exhibit on the role of the church in African-American history “should tell the story of liberation and reconciliation, not just the sterile story of forgiveness.”
Darby, who also is the first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP, said it also should tell how the church championed the cause of liberation and freedom before the Civil War, during Reconstruction and throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
“The church is not about victimization,” he said. “It’s about triumph.”
Riley plans to bring in $25 million each from the state, the city and county, and private donors to build the museum.
The city and county last year each agreed to contribute $12.5 million.
The state gave the project $5 million last year, and another $5 million for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1. “We feel this was the second installment of a $25 million commitment,” Riley said.
He is working with legislators now to get a commitment for the final $15 million during next year’s session, or $5 million each year for the next three years, he said.
“We’re trying to come up with a mechanism so the funding will be assured,” he said.
So far, Riley has brought in about $2 million in private donations, he said. But he already has met with or soon will meet with about 20 corporations, foundations or individuals to make presentations for donations.
“I want the $25 million pledged by the time I leave office Jan. 11,” he said. “I know the $25 million can be raised.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.