Riley was joined by museum board chairman Wilbur Johnson to announce the appointment of Michael Moore as the first president and CEO of the museum. A former business executive with Coca-Cola and Kraft, Moore is a descendant of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American remembered for taking command of a Confederate ship in 1862 and sailing through Charleston Harbor before turning the vessel over to Union forces. Smalls would go on to become a captain in the Union army and serve as a state and U.S. legislator after the war.
As the new head of the International African-American Museum, Moore spoke about the importance of recognizing Charleston’s past at a press conference Friday morning at the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf, where an estimated 100,000 Africans arrived in Charleston Harbor during the peak of the slave trade.
“History is a really really powerful thing. It serves to frame a people. It helps to identify who they are. It helps to even position where they are going,” Moore said. “With the International African-American Museum, if we can help to uncover, reveal, tell some of those stories, I think we will be doing a tremendous service. And if we can also help to elevate the overall conversation in this country around race, there’s no better place than Charleston for this conversation to happen and for this museum to be.”
In his role as CEO, Moore’s first challenge is to continue to raise the funds necessary to begin construction of the museum, which is estimated to cost around $75 million. According to Riley, the city and county have already agreed to contribute $25 million, and the state has been asked to match that contribution. The former mayor said that legislators have appropriated $5 million in each of the previous two state budgets. If that stream of funding continues, reaching the $25 million target should coincide with the construction schedule of the museum.
Approximately $3 million in private funding has been raised. Those behind the museum hope to have all the necessary funds committed to the project in time to begin construction by this time next year, with an estimated 18 months for completion. While Charleston’s International African-American Museum has been slow to develop, the project has never been far from the mind of the former mayor.
“Every time I come back to it in my thoughts and work, it becomes more important because it’s a city honoring people who were brought here against their will in chains and telling the stories that people don’t know. We are a better country and a better people when we know all of our history. This museum will do that,” says Riley. “You don’t get the chance in life to work on many things that will be of value not only to you or your community, but to your country. This will be of great value to our country, and I think for Charlestonians of African descent, European descent, Asian descent, Native American descent, there will be enormous pride of having this here to enlighten ourselves and enlighten all who come.”
Former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. says the International African-American Museum could be open by the end 2018 if fundraising efforts remain on track.