Senate panel OKs $5M for African American museum

The International African American Museum is planned for the undeveloped land that was the site of the historic Gadsden’s Wharf on Charleston Harbor. File

COLUMBIA — A proposal to have the state contribute another $5 million to the International African American Museum this year cleared its first hurdle on Thursday.

The Senate’s Finance Committee approved the sum as part of the state’s proposed $7.5 billion budget. The budget, however, is far from complete, so the allocation might change.

The House’s version of the budget contained no money for the museum.

Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley for years has been championing the $75 million museum, which will be built on the site of the former Gadsden’s Wharf on the Cooper River, an entry point for more than 100,000 slaves.

Riley plans to raise $25 million each from local, state and private sources to cover the cost of the museum. So far, he has raised all of the local money, $4 million in private funds and $10 million from the state.

If the $5 million pushed through Thursday gets final budget approval from the General Assembly this year, the total raised would jump to $44 million. If approved, it would mark the third year the state contributed $5 million.

“It’s wonderful news,” Riley said of committee’s proposed contribution. “We’ve been pursuing this as part of our funding plan.”

Riley plans to push for money for two more years to bring the state total to $25 million.

“The museum’s value to the state is huge in so many ways,” Riley said. “I think our country will be increasingly interested in studying chapters we have never presented before.”

Riley also said the museum will contribute to economic development in the state and region.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Hopkins, touted the effort, after the House of Representatives approved the state budget in March with no money set aside for the museum. The extra cash could help museum construction start as early as 2017, Jackson said.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at croldan@postandcourier.com and Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.