Mayor Riley meeting with Bill Clinton on International African American Museum

Mayor Joe Riley

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is hoping former President Bill Clinton could lend a big hand to the International African American Museum.

Riley announced Wednesday he will meet with Clinton next week in New York to discuss the museum effort. The sit-down comes as supporters are gearing up for the targeted $25 million private fundraising campaign needed to make the $75 million site a reality.

"Tremendously," Riley said of how much Clinton's involvement could mean.

Adding Clinton as a booster "helps make the national statement that this is a really important institution for our country," he said.

The meeting is set for June 5 and comes on the back-end of two days of museum-related meetings that Riley has in the city. It was put together after Riley met with National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial in April, also about the museum.

A short while later, Clinton's office called and offered to add Riley to the president's schedule. "He loves Charleston," Riley said. "He is very interested in what we are doing."

Clinton, who runs the nonprofit Clinton Foundation that's geared toward improving global health, economic development and other issues, is a past member of the museum's advisory board. Local officials said there was an interest to reconnect.

An email sent to Clinton's New York press office was not answered.

Riley's meeting with the former White House occupant comes as the General Assembly could provide up to $7 million in funding to the museum project this year - if state revenue estimates hold. While the $7 million figure would be short of the $12.5 million Riley had originally requested from lawmakers this session, the money is still a favorable addition toward making the museum a reality, he said.

"I think it's great," said Riley, who added there is still plenty of time to put the project together.

Part of the funding has already been secured; a combined $25 million was previously approved from the Charleston City and the Charleston County councils.

As envisioned, the 43,500-square-foot museum would go on land at the intersection of Concord and Calhoun streets across from the S.C. Aquarium and Fort Sumter tour boat site. It is also near where the former Gadsden's Wharf accepted slave ships from Africa.

Historians believe some 40 percent of all the enslaved Africans who came to North America entered through the port of Charleston, meaning millions of Americans can trace their lineage to the vessels that landed here.

Museum supporters, meanwhile, say they plan to cast a wide net in the private fundraising portion of the effort. That includes looking within South Carolina as well as nationally and abroad.

"I think there's a reason this is being called the 'International' African American Museum," Wilbur Johnson, chairman of the museum board, said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.