We're a proud supporter of the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, SC. As we celebrate the museum's mission of honoring African Americans' untold stories from slavery to the civil rights movement and beyond during Black History Month, we discussed the impact the institution will have on the community when it opens in 2022 with Chief Operating Officer Elijah Heyward III.
What roles does the IAAM play in sharing the stories of Black men and women in American history, and why is it important to give these stories a voice?
Professor Henry Louis Gates has referred to our museum site as ground zero for Black History. From our location, you can see Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started and the pathway that slave ships took to arrive at Charleston: the single greatest entry point for African captives. Our mission is to preserve an often-underappreciated part of American history to ensure that all Americans can learn about the excellence that continues to define our society.
As COO of the IAAM, what role do you think museums play in educating the public about issues that have historically impacted the Black community?
Museums are invaluable tools to build bridges of understanding. They are keepers of the past, but more importantly, institutions that inspire visitors to envision a future through dialogue, connection, and access.
We know there's much to explore regarding Black history. What stories do you think people should learn more about to understand African American and Black experiences better?
The beauty of America is that we are a melting pot. There are so many rich cultures that make up our nation. The African American experience is not a monolith and thus offers many pathways of inquiry. As a kid, I recall an annual traveling exhibit focused on African American inventors. I was mesmerized to learn of all the everyday things invited by African Americans. This made me proud and offered a sense of esteem. I encourage the exploration of narratives that further align the African American experience with the foundational understanding of the American experience.
“Black History Month is an opportunity to foreground the African American experience in America.”
How will IAAM differ from the institutions like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Smithsonian African American Museum in DC, the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, and others around the country?
Our museum focuses on the African American journey from its touchpoint in Charleston, SC. It is a journey that predates slavery and moves beyond that period to impact the world.
We know that IAAM will take thoughtful perspective in the approach to exhibits chronicling experiences from slavery to the civil rights movement to now. What do you think and hope the museum's future impact in championing African American issues will be?
We are thrilled to join other museums across the country that are committed to chronicling the experiences of African Americans. We endeavor to be at the forefront of uncovering new ideas, engaging various constituencies to share our tools far and wide, and leveraging our mission to inspire hope and action.
What Black history story stands out the most to you at the museum?
Our museum will have a Center for Family History, a place where visitors can conduct family research and benefit from on-site resources and experts. The Black history narratives that stand out to me are those of my own family. I am a proud South Carolinian native, and I have always appreciated my forebears who accomplished a great deal despite societal limitations.
How do you want people to feel after visiting the museum?
We hope that visitors feel inspired to action after visiting our museum and African Ancestors Memorial Gardens.
Lastly, what does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is an opportunity to foreground the African American experience in America. For me, it is larger than a month; it is a year-long commitment to how we leverage the past to ensure justice in the future through education.
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