The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, has pledged $2 million to Charleston's International African American Museum.
The money is being given to the museum's Center for Family History, a resource center where African-Americans will be able to get help and research tools to study their ancestral roots.
The church's partnership with the IAAM will also include support from its genealogy organization, FamilySearch, which it says is the world's largest.
That partnership will be even more valuable than the initial donation, said Michael Boulware Moore, the IAAM's president and CEO.
"While the cash gift is extremely important, that ongoing support and collaboration is going to to allow us to stay on the cutting-edge," he said.
The announcement was made at RootsTech, a national genealogy conference held this year in Salt Lake City. The Utah capital is also where the Mormon church is headquartered.
Elder Bradley D. Foster, the chairman of FamilySearch, and Elder David A. Bednar, who oversees the church's presence in Africa, announced the donation and partnership Wednesday evening.
Bednar described recent efforts from FamilySearch to help people with African ancestry trace their roots, such as helping them access Freedman's Bank Records. The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company was formed in 1865 as a place where former slaves and their dependents could save money.
FamilySearch has also been compiling oral histories from people in 15 different African countries, Bednar said.
"We’re doing our best to reconnect families that were disconnected by the transatlantic slave trade," he said.
Genealogy has a long history with the Mormon church, dating back to about 1894 with the formation of the Genealogical Society of Utah, FamilySearch's predecessor. It's the church's belief that families can be together for eternity, even after death, and therefore it is important to form bonds between both living and deceased relatives.
The relationship between African-Americans and the Mormon church was defined, for many years, by bans that excluded black members from much of church life.
For more than a century, African-American men were barred from the priesthood, a role which is taken on by any male of good standing in the church, and both black men and women were prohibited from participating in important church rituals.
The ban was issued in 1852 and wasn't officially reversed until 1978, when a leader of the church declared that "all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color."
In a statement about the donation, the IAAM referred to the church's "growing relationships in the African-American community," including a recent education and employment initiative pursued in partnership with the NAACP.
In front of the RootsTech audience Wednesday evening, Moore shared the story of his great-great grandfather Robert Smalls, who made history in 1862 when he escaped slavery by successfully taking command of a Confederate steamship and sailing it out of Charleston Harbor.
Moore also spoke about his recent trip to Sierra Leone, the West African country where he was able to trace his ancestral roots through DNA testing.
"The work you do is so profoundly important," he told those gathered at the conference.
The IAAM's Center for Family History will function as a gallery, a library and a resource center. Displays will tell real stories of African Americans who traced their family roots, and visitors can use on-site resources and consult staff members for assistance with their own family searches.
The center is under the direction of Toni Carrier who previously founded the nonprofit Lowcountry Africana, an organization for genealogical research in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
The museum will be built on the waterfront between the Maritime Center and the Dockside condominium complex. The parcel of land is a portion of what was once Gadsden's Wharf, one of Charleston's most active and brutal sites during the slave trade.
The museum announced in December that it would need to raise at least an additional $10 million more beyond its initial $75 million goal, which was reached in August.
At the museum's February board meeting, officials reported that they had raised $7.9 million toward that sum. This new pledge was included in that total, so the announcement does not impact the progress toward fundraising for construction.