By Emily Williams, Post and Courier
The city of North Charleston plans to give $1 million to the International African American Museum, making it the first city other than Charleston to make a major contribution to the soon-to-be-built facility.
The donation will be given over four years in annual sums of $250,000, funded by the accommodations tax revenue.
Council members are scheduled to vote on the proposed gift Thursday. The city’s finance committee, which includes every member of council, approved the donation unanimously last week.
Mayor Keith Summey said he’s been considering the contribution for about six months. He sat down with former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley this month to discuss his hope for how North Charleston may be included in the project.
“We want our part of the history to be recognized,” Summey said.
Specifically, Summey would like to see the museum highlight the neighborhood of Liberty Hill. Founded in 1871 by four freed black men, the community is North Charleston’s oldest and predates the city itself.
An exhibit in the city’s new Intermodal Transportation Center will feature an exhibit on Liberty Hill’s history. But exposure in the IAAM, Summey said, would spread the community’s story on a much greater scale.
“Municipalities have a competitive spirit sometimes,” Summey said. “But we thought enough of this project that we believed we would be treated fairly.”
Riley said he was “extremely grateful” to have the support of the neighboring city. The idea of incorporating Liberty Hill into the IAAM fits with the museum’s focus of “telling African American stories through the lens of Charleston, the Lowcountry and South Carolina.”
“This is a place where African Americans were able to build their own community,” Riley said. “I think it’s wonderful.”
The funds given to the museum will not be designated for a specific use, Summey said.
Money from accommodations taxes — the revenue gathered from stays at hotels and other commercial lodgings — was chosen for the gift since the museum is expected to draw new travelers to the area, including North Charleston.
One of the goals of the museum is to serve as a hub for visitors who want to discover other places that are meaningful to African American history throughout the state.
For example, one gallery will feature an interactive media table with a map of South Carolina. Visitors can zoom in on different points of interest and learn about relevant sites and how they connect to the stories presented at the museum.
More than 2,200 contributors have raised the more than $90 million already donated to the project. So far, public contributions have come from the city of Charleston, Charleston County and the state of South Carolina.
The museum reached its original fundraising goal, $75 million, last August.
But construction costs, including the price of steel, were higher than anticipated, and fundraising continued. Several large donations have been announced this year, including contributions of $1 million or more from BP, Nucor Corp., Dominion Energy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
After almost two decades of planning and fundraising, the IAAM reached a milestone last month when Charleston City Council voted to approve critical contracts allowing work to begin on the museum’s waterfront site.
The contracts totaled $60.2 million, about $58.46 million of which will go to the primary contractor, Turner-Brownstone, for the first phase of construction. Other smaller contracts included electrical work and project management services.
An official groundbreaking ceremony will be held in October at the museum site, which is next to the Charleston Maritime Center.
Riley, museum board chairman Wilbur Johnson and interim CEO Bernard Powers will join North Charleston city officials Friday morning for an announcement of the donation at the Felix Pinckney Community Center.
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