African American museum gets $500K Boeing boost Company seeks key role in telling story of ‘largely overlooked history’

A rendering of the proposed $75 million International African American Museum at the former Gadsden’s Wharf site.

Boeing Co.’s donation of $500,000 toward the proposed International African American Museum brings the project along Charleston Harbor closer to reality, with Mayor Joe Riley announcing Wednesday that final design of the building and its exhibits has started.

“We had two full-day meetings earlier this week with the design team, architects and exhibit designers,” Riley said at City Hall.

The $75 million project is on pace to start construction in the spring of 2017, with Boeing’s donation — along with public money set aside for the museum — providing the credibility Riley said he needs to seek support from other private businesses.

“Boeing is a company that takes care of its employees and it takes care of its community,” said Riley, who is in the last months of his 40-year tenure as mayor. “This is another example of their thoughtful generosity.”

Boeing announced its gift Tuesday at a 2015 Equal Opportunity Day event organized by the Columbia Urban League.

“Through our investment in this important museum of African American history and identity, we at Boeing hope to play a key role in helping tell the story of the largely overlooked history of African Americans in the Charleston area,” said Tim Keating, the company’s senior vice president of government affairs.

The gift is in addition to a $250,000 donation Boeing made in 2011 and will be used to support the creation of the Family Heritage Center associated with the museum.

Riley said that center will help people of African descent trace their ancestry, using “processes including DNA to help trace their roots back to the specific region in Africa where their ancestors came from.”

The museum also will help develop curricula for public schools. Riley has said the impact African slaves and free blacks had on the country’s economic, political and cultural development is largely absent from history books.

“This museum will be a gift to our country and a source of immense pride for the citizens of South Carolina,” he said.

Riley has championed the Concord Street project on the site of the former Gadsden’s Wharf, an entry point for more than 100,000 slaves.

About half of that money is in place, with the city and Charleston County contributing a combined $25 million and the General Assembly setting aside another $10 million. Riley said he is confident state lawmakers will contribute another $15 million, leaving one-third of the money to be raised from private business and individuals.

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Riley, who leaves office in January, said the full amount has to be committed before the city can sign a construction contract, although all of it doesn’t have to be in hand as long as “we have reasonable assurances that it will becoming during the construction period.”

Boeing’s donation brings the private contributions to about $2.25 million.

The company said it has invested more than $25 million in South Carolina nonprofit organizations since 2010 and has volunteered approximately 7,000 times in more than 200 community projects.

“The people of South Carolina have embraced us with open arms, and we want to give back,” Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, said in a statement. Wyse said Boeing’s donation to the museum “is significant to the cultural development and historical preservation of this area.”

The Columbia Urban League this week named Boeing the recipient of the Virgil C. Summer Corporate Award for demonstrating consistent promotion of equal opportunity and social justice.