International African American Museum

Dr. Bernard Powers founded the Center for the Study of Slavery at the College of Charleston
Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio

As the College of Charleston celebrates its 250th birthday, at its center is Randolph Hall.  Built in 1820, students still gather here. 

Less prominent, an organization that tries to help the school comes to terms with  its past, the Center for the Study of Slavery.

"You are sitting in the office of the center right now," says Dr. Bernard Powers.  He founded the center two years ago after retiring from the history department.

Freetown mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr (left to right with International African American Museum CEO Michael Boulware Moore
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

Dressed in a brightly colored, patterned dress and wearing stylishly large, black rimmed glasses, 51 year-old Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr flashes the most fantastic smile. The mayor of Freetown, Seirra Leone in West Africa has travelled more than 4,000 miles to visit Charleston and South Carolina's Sea Islands. She must be exhausted. Yet she glows with warmth and enthusiasm.

"We're family," she tells an audience gathered inside the Frissell Community House at the Penn Center on Saint Helena Island. "We should be a bit closer than we have been to date."

IAAM president Michael Moore at Gadsden's Wharf in Charleston
Victoria Hansen

For as long as he can remember, Michael Boulware Moore has known the story of Robert Smalls;  a slave who not only gained his freedom by commandeering a Confederate ship and turning it over to Union forces, but later served in the South Carolina State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Moore didn’t read about Smalls in school. Such bravery by slaves during the Civil War wasn’t always taught.  Instead, he grew up hearing personal stories from relatives like his grandmother.  Robert Smalls was his great-great grandfather.

Former Mayor Joe Riley celebrates the announcement the money needed to build the International African American Museum has been raised
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

The Charleston Maritime Museum was packed Thursday with a who’s who of community leaders, as well as local and state dignitaries.  Former, long time Charleston City Mayor Joe Riley could barely contain his excitement as he stepped up to the podium. 

“Today we’ve asked all of you to join us to tell you that the dream of the International African American Museum shared by so many will be a reality,” he said.  “We have met our $75 million fundraising goal.”

Former Charleston City Mayor Joe Riley at the site of the planned International African American Museum.
The Citadel

There's no slowing down for Former Charleston City mayor Joe Riley.  The 75 year-old is as ambitious as ever, finalizing plans for the city's new International African American Museum.  He's even teaching a class about it this semester at his Alma Mater, The Citadel.

"I work hard on it every day," said Riley from his office on Broad Street.  He gazes out the window as he talks about a  past he says is rarely acknowledged.   "Across the street from me are historic buildings built during times of enslavement."