Black Women Leaders Celebrated at New International African American Museum in Charleston
After 20 years of planning and development, the International African American Museum is finally open in Charleston, South Carolina.
A statement from the museum details that it features galleries that “demonstrate how enslaved and free Africans shaped economic, political, and cultural development throughout the nation and beyond.”
The galleries also explore how the story of African Americans is connected with the culture the South Carolina Lowcountry.
The museum holds a total of 11 galleries and a memorial garden. It is built on the site of Gadsden’s Wharf — which is a well-known former slave port.
The Women Behind the Museum
Amid the coverage around the museum’s opening there has also been excitement that Black women are represented in some of the museum’s senior executive roles.
Dr. Tonya Matthews
Dr. Tonya Matthews is the president and CEO of the museum. The Washington D.C. native has a background in biomedical and electrical engineering and is also a poet. Ahead of assuming her role at the IAAM, she worked as Associate Provost for Inclusive Workforce Development & Director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center for Wayne State University. She was also the President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center.
“After decades of planning and hard-work, we are thrilled to officially open IAAM to the public,” said Matthews. “Thank you for waiting several centuries for this moment to honor the untold story of the African American people. We welcome everyone to visit us at IAAM — to simultaneously hold the sensations of trauma and joy that are woven together throughout our exhibitions, and feel something that is akin to everything. Our stories, our history — they are seeds, and seeds sprout. They have been planted and germinating for hundreds of years, and now we till the soil.”
Malika N. Pryor
Malika N. Pryor serves as chief learning and engagement officer for the museum. Pryor is a Detroit native. She worked as a lawyer for several years before becoming the director of education and programs at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. She has since worked in a variety of arts and culture education roles. That includes her most recent role as senior director of educations and programs for the Detroit Historical Society.
“It is an honor to open the International African American Museum to the public. During a time where the idea of the African American experience being quintessential to the American experience is being challenged around the nation — what a fantastic moment for this Museum to be alive,” said Pryor in a statement.
The IAAM held a dedication ceremony on June 24, which was hosted by Dean Phylicia Rashad. It included performances by Amadou Kouyate, Cheick Hamala Diabaté. and the Charleston Symphony Orchestras.