Corporate Support Helped Illuminate International African American Museum’s Mission
The International African American Museum in Charleston is
located at one of the most important historical sites in American history, the
Wharf, the point of disembarkation for nearly half of all enslaved Africans.
The museum seeks to honor the untold stories of the African
American journey by educating visitors about the realities of the international
slave trade and plantation life.
The IAAM also explores the cultures and knowledge systems
retained and adapted by Africans in the Americas that have been influential
across South Carolina, the United States, and the African diaspora.
It is a powerful reminder of the often-overlooked history of
African Americans in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, and a commitment to move the dial on
equity and racial justice.
Simply put, the museum is a must-see.
Our Integrated Media Publishing team has been there, and as
Associate Editor Donna Isbell Walker writes in this issue, IAAM’s architect, the late Henry N.
Cobb, considered the site “hallowed ground.”
She writes that the histories of Charleston and the North
American slave trade are inextricably woven together, and those threads are
visible from the moment a visitor steps foot onto the IAAM campus.
no surprise many corporations, businesses and entities have rallied with
financial contributions to support the museum and our greater civic well-being.
The Lilly Endowment made a $10 million lead grant to the museum
in 2017 to help the IAAM build its capacity to incorporate religion into its
interpretations of American life and establish relationships with and develop
programs for churches and other faith-based organizations.
According to the IAAM, other sizable donations have come from
Mellon Foundation, which topped $2 million in grants in April; Boeing ($2
million as of last August); the New York Life Foundation ($1 million as of
May); and Bank of America (more than $1 million).
But it doesn’t stop there.
TD Community Development Corporation (TDCDC), a wholly owned
subsidiary of TD Bank, N.A., announced in 2020 its allocation of New Markets
Tax Credits (NMTC) to the IAAM to assist in its construction project and opening.
The substantial allocation results in an equity investment of more than $5.5
Michael Cooper, president of the New Markets Tax Credit program
for TD Community Development Corp., said several areas jumped out for the
museum to be considered, including its educational component, social impact and
the broader advocacy museum officials will lead nationwide.
He said the museum will illuminate Charleston’s role in the international slave
trade and connect visitors to the past.
But he said there’s a broader narrative, the story about how enslaved
Americans and those who were eventually freed helped shape the broader
economic, political and, to some extent, cultural development of the
“These are not light topics,” Cooper said. “These
are not topics that you just embed in a community benefits agreement and tuck
it away. These are challenging conversations. But they’re good conversations to have.”
IAAM also received a $250,000 grant from TD Bank to sponsor the
TD Bank Program Series, which will include nine large program events to be held
at the museum and online. That donation builds on the TD Charitable Foundation’s 2016
donation of $250,000 to support the Center for Family History.
“The TD Bank Program Series will help to elevate the
amazing works and untold stories of artists and individuals and drive important
conversations around social justice, diversity, and more,” said Shelley Sylva,
head of U.S. Corporate Citizenship at TD Bank.
She added much of the museum’s appeal comes from its focus on authentic African
American cultural arts and storytelling. “And what better place to do that
than in Charleston,” Sylva said.
The museum’s permanent exhibitions feature more than 150 historical
objects, more than 30 works of art, nearly 50 films and digital interactive
experiences that bring history to life, framed by a gateway to the Atlantic
You can explore the diverse cultures of West and West Central
Africa and trace the movement of people of African descent throughout the
Atlantic World, and discover people, events, and stories that shaped United
States history through the international lens of the African diaspora.
Additionally, you can explore the nuanced historical connections
throughout the Black Atlantic World and the deep interconnectivity between
Africa, the Americas, and Europe and understand the transformative impact of
enslaved people who labored on plantations in South Carolina and helped build
the lucrative rice industry.
You also can define and demystify what it means to be Gullah
Geechee by examining the history of the Gullah Geechee people and the contemporary
issues facing their communities today, and experience stories of resistance and
achievement from the many locally, nationally, and internationally influential
African Americans in South Carolina’s history.
The Carolina Gold Gallery, which includes both the Carolina Gold
Exhibit and the Memories of the Enslaved Exhibit, offers a look at the
transformative impact of enslaved people whose labor shaped and built the
lucrative rice industry. Carolina Gold, a variety of African rice, was a staple
in South Carolina until the late 1920s.
The exhibit not only examines the root of the plantation systems,
but it also acknowledges the ingenuity that Africans, from the western region,
brought to this nation. Through perseverance and resistance, African Americans
were able to engineer community and shape the geography and economy in the
The gallery examines the brutality of chattel slavery by using
the experiences of these people while demonstrating the idea of turning
exploitation to triumph. A notable object illustrative of that time is “Ashley’s Sack,”
which is on loan to IAAM from the Middleton Foundation.
story is that of a 9-year-old enslaved girl who was sold in Charleston in the
mid-1800s and then separated from her mother, Rose. Knowing the separation was
mother gave her a cotton sack filled with a tattered dress, pecans, and a braid
Although she never saw Ashley again, the sack would later become
an intergenerational connection to Rose’s descendants when it was handed down to Ruth Middleton,
granddaughter. In 1921, Ruth embroidered her story on the sack, and it has come
to be known as “Ashley’s Sack”.
That display is absorbing, fascinating, gripping, and riveting.
The IAAM also announced earlier this year that South Carolina
Congressman James E. Clyburn, the first chair of the IAAM board and a long-term
museum supporter, will be honored in the Carolina Gold Gallery, which will bear
“My hope,” said Clyburn, “is
that those who visit will leave with a more complete understanding of African
American and American history.”