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Mar 28, 2024

Special exhibition at the International African American Museum highlights search for freedom

Follow the North Star explores the African American journey

Charleston, S.C. – The International African American Museum (IAAM) will host the world premier of a special exhibition highlighting the African American search for freedom and self-determination. Entitled Follow the North Star: Freedom in the Age of Mobility, it is the first to be curated and crafted by IAAM that is designed to travel to other museums around the country, introducing them to historical events leading to African American liberation. The exhibition will be on display from May 23 through November 3, 2024. 

Inspired by the call to “follow the North Star” to freedom and self-determination, Follow the North Star: Freedom in the Age of Mobility tells the stories of those who forged new paths, paving the way for others. This multi-media exploration follows the multifaceted journey of African American liberation through movement.  

The exhibition was made possible through a $1 million gift from Michelin North America, Inc. In addition, the Michelin Corporate Foundation was one of the museum’s founding donors, with a philanthropic investment to launch and support the International African American Museum.While Michelin serves as presenting sponsor of Follow the North Star, IAAM’s first traveling exhibition, additional funding was provided by the Mellon Foundation.

“Michelin is proud to partner with the International African American Museum in Charleston, which opened last June. Our partnership reflects one of our core values — Respect for People and supports our desire to educate, inform and inspire about the history and heritage of the African American communities. More specifically, it celebrates the theme of being free to move. Our sponsorship of this new exhibit illuminates that goal,” said Alexis Garcin, president and CEO of Michelin North America, Inc. “Additionally, through this partnership, a group of Michelin employees worked with the museum’s Center for Family History to research their genealogy; helping to connect the past and present, moving forward together, as per the purpose of our Company.”

Through the lens of historical events related to the African American search for freedom and lesser-known forms of escape, including folklore, storytelling, and metaphysical travel, visitors will explore this exhibition from three perspectives: Transportation, The Great Migration, and Spirituality/Imagination. Whether relocating out West to be a cowboy, creating art in the Harlem Renaissance, or leaving the United States entirely, African Americans have historically transformed their daily lived realities in different ways. This journey toward freedom, a highly pursued and often elusive destination, has taken many forms, from recurring Back-to-Africa Movements to the famed Montgomery Bus Boycotts to Afrofuturist visions of other worlds. All in, the African American journey is complex and full of possibility and agency no matter where it leads.

“As people of the African Diaspora, our journey can be viewed as a single continuous trek towards ‘freedom.’ Despite the consistent march in its direction, however, ‘freedom’ has remained an unreachable location. Follow the North Star: Freedom in the Age of Mobility, explores this dichotomy. How has the concept of ‘freedom’ remained an eternally compelling beacon, while simultaneously proving to be an utterly elusive destination? How can a place we may never reach also serve as a steadfast guide? We have unquestionably covered immense distance on this journey as a people. Yet, at times, ‘freedom’ can feel as far away as ever,” commented James Bartlett, curator at IAAM.

An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, May 22, celebrating the world premiere of this traveling exhibition. Guests can register for the opening reception here. There will also be a Curator Talk on Thursday, August 8. A link to registration will be forthcoming. 

“It’s a remarkable feat to plan and produce a traveling exhibition within our first year of opening, but that’s exactly what we’ve done with Follow the North Star, which will offer a microcosm of the IAAM experience everywhere this very special exhibition travels. It’s the marriage of lesser told stories paired with immersive art, powerful artifacts, and technology that humanizes and elevates the narrative guiding you through a moving journey much like our forefathers may have witnessed,” noted Malika Pryor, chief learning and engagement officer at IAAM.

The International African American Museum (IAAM) explores the history, culture, and impact of the African American journey on Charleston, the nation, and the world, shining light and sharing stories of the diverse journeys, origin, and achievements of descendants of the African Diaspora. Across eleven galleries and a memorial garden with art, objects, artifacts, and multi-media interaction, IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history. As a result, the museum will stand as one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as it evolves today. The mission of IAAM is to honor the untold stories of the African American journey at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf and beyond. For more information, please visit or call 843-872-5352.

Editor’s Note: Images attached include the logo for Follow the North Star: Freedom in the Age of Mobility; Adama Delphine Fawundu, Palii~Seat of the Ancestors and Water Spirits, 20222023; still from threechannel video installation; and “The Negro Motorist Green Book: 1947” from The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1947. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.