CHARLESTON, S.C. (March 8, 2019) – The International African American Museum (IAAM) received a significant leadership investment last month, when Susu and George Dean Johnson, Jr., of Spartanburg, donated $1 million to support the institution’s creation. Founders of a nationally renowned art collection, the couple has a longstanding interest in advancing the study and appreciation of African American culture.
“I first met George Dean when we were in law school together at USC, and later, we served together in the South Carolina House of Representatives” said Joseph P. Riley, Jr., IAAM board member and former Charleston mayor. “He and Susu have consistently demonstrated their dedication to our state through their service and leadership of community and philanthropic organizations. I am honored to have their support as we continue to work diligently to fundraise ahead of this year’s groundbreaking.”
“Two centuries ago, South Carolina was the epicenter of America’s most inhumane history. In years to come, our state—through the witness and work of the International African American Museum—can be a locus for better understanding this country’s flawed past and forging a fairer, finer future,” said George Dean Johnson, Jr. “Susu and I are honored to support the IAAM and its message of hope.”
Spartanburg native George Dean Johnson, Jr., a graduate of Wofford College and the University of South Carolina, is well known in the state. A seasoned attorney, he served three terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives and has founded and led a number of successful entrepreneurial ventures, many of which now operate under an umbrella organization known as The Johnson Group. His legacy as a successful businessman was indelibly ingrained in South Carolina with the creation of the George Dean Johnson, Jr. College of Business and Economics at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg.
Susan (Susu) Phifer Johnson is chief executive officer of the Johnson Collection. As an undergraduate, she attended Converse College—of which she is now a life trustee—and then earned her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. In 1992, she became the third woman elected to Spartanburg City Council and continues to devote her energies to community service, currently serving in leadership roles with the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM)and Girl Scouts of South Carolina Midlands to Mountains. She recently spearheaded the establishment of Meeting Street Academy-Spartanburg.
Known as a “private collection for public good,” the Johnson Collection (TJC) encompasses 1200 objects with provenances that span the centuries and chronicle the complex cultural history of the American South. Through scholarly publications, major traveling exhibitions, and rotating presentations in its Spartanburg gallery space, TJC seeks to reach a broad and diverse audience. In 2016, the state of South Carolina honored the collection with the Governor’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, its highest arts distinction, noting the Johnson family’s dedication to “arts advancement and arts accessibility.”
In 2016, the Johnson Collection sponsored the multi-state tour of Dr. Leo Twiggs’ powerful Requiem for Mother Emanuelexhibition. TJC’s newest show—Elevation from Within: The Study of Art at Historically Black Colleges and Universities—marks a second collaboration with the celebrated painter and educator. Elevation from Withinpays homage to historically black colleges and universities’ alumni and professors whose educational backgrounds document a vital chapter of American history and whose aesthetic achievements have made an indelible mark on this nation’s art.
“The Johnsons have a long and impressive record of giving back to their communities, both through service and meaningful philanthropy,” said Michael Boulware Moore, IAAM president and CEO. “Time and time again, they have invested in education and in initiatives that make art and culture accessible and available. We are incredibly proud that they have chosen to extend that commitment to the IAAM.”