International African American Museum in Charleston, SC

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International African American Museum | The New Telling of the African American Journey is Almost Ready to Be Told

International African American Museum

International African American Museum

Visit the International African American Museum at its historic Charleston location to experience a story a way it’s never been told.

After over two decades of fundraising and countless hours of tirelessly planning, the International African American Museum (IAAM), located in Charleston, South Carolina, has received another round of funding from the Ford Foundation.

“This is our momentum year! As we head down the finish line of artifact and exhibition installation, we are also launching several programs and beginning to connect with educators across the country while we design our K-12 curriculum,” says Dr. Tonya Matthews, president and CEO. “We are only able to do this with the vision and support of organizations like the Ford Foundation. We are incredibly grateful for their continuing support.”

This $500,000 grant, the third from the Ford Foundation, brings their total grant contributions to nearly $1 million, will help the museum curators bring their vision to life as they prepare to finally open their doors later this year. But what exactly can you expect to find when you step through those doors?



The exhibitions featured at the museum, organized geographically as opposed to chronologically, will share untold stories using classic techniques as well as some new approaches driven by innovation, technology and digital interactivity. You will learn stories of the real human cost and the suffering of slavery, while finding that the museum is also a space to celebrate cultures and explore the cultural impact that arose from Charleston and spread throughout the rest of the country and the Caribbean.


The Center for Family History is a one-of-a-kind research center with a very special focus on African American genealogy. Museum staff will provide guidance to genealogists to learn even more about family history using resources collected by the Center. Workshops and educational programming will be offered.

Center for Family History

International African American Museum | Center for Family History

“One of the things that we’ve come to honor and understand is the power of a story,” she says. “Folks love stories. We know that we, as human beings, resonate with a good story, and they last forever. So there is the power in story to change hearts and minds and to put our world in context.”


The International African American Museum will also include the African Ancestors Memorial Garden, complete with an infinity fountain on the edge of the original wharf. The Garden will be a place to reflect, experience botanic gardens, artistic installations, performances and so much more. The Garden will be free and open to the public.

Though, regardless of how you choose to spend your time at the IAAM, Dr. Matthews hopes to educate Museum visitors through the beauty of storytelling

“One of the things that we’ve come to honor and understand is the power of a story,” she says. “Folks love stories. We know that we, as human beings, resonate with a good story, and they last forever. So there is the power in story to change hearts and minds and to put our world in context.”


And, perhaps what’s most compelling about the IAAM’s story is its historic location: Gadsden’s Wharf. The Museum, which will sit upon the shoulders of 18 strong columns, sits on the shores of where almost half of all enslaved men, women and children first entered America between 1783 and 1808 after a terrifying journey across the Middle Passage. The African Ancestors Memorial Garden highlights the original shoreline, so when you visit, you will stand in the exact spot so many captive Africans did the very first time they stepped foot in America.

The IAAM is an educational experience for visitors both young and old who wish to take this opportunity to learn and reflect, much like the The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. So next time you’re looking for museums in Charleston, be sure to add this one to your list.

“We’re eager to open our doors to visitors,” says Dr. Matthews. “The International African American Museum is excited to have the Ford Foundation among its partners. Both institutions strive to ensure that all individuals – and their stories – receive just and equitable treatment. The stories and artifacts within the museum, alongside the connections made because of them, are being intentionally curated with this understanding.”

“The International African American Museum will prompt difficult conversations, tell a complete history and spark action to build a more perfect union,” says Dr. Matthews.

While the International African American Museum isn’t open quite yet, you can still celebrate Black History Month with them via some virtual events that they are hosting throughout this month! 

If you’d like to contribute to the International African American Museum’s success, consider donating.

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