International African American Museum receives Riley Institute’s OneSouthCarlolina Partners in Progress Award

May 11, 2023

Charleston’s International African American Museum (IAAM) received the second annual OneSouthCarolina Partners in Progress Award from Furman University’s Riley Institute.

The award was presented to IAAM President and CEO Dr. Tonya Matthews by Dick Riley, the former South Carolina governor and U.S. Secretary of Education, during the Building OneSouthCarolina Forum in Columbia on May 10. The annual award is given for achievements that advance social and economic progress in South Carolina.

“The International African American Museum is deserving of this award on multiple levels,” said Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute. “It would not have been feasible without strong public-private partnerships and the input of a vast array of stakeholders in Charleston and throughout the state, and it positions South Carolina as a leader that confronts difficult parts of our past and present and honors those stories.”

The IAAM—a project 23 years in the making—opens on June 27 and is located on historic Gadsden’s Wharf, where an estimated 40 percent of all enslaved Africans first set foot in the United States. The museum is built to honor the site and position the African American story in its full global context, right up through the present day.

“As the newest platform set to ignite the conversations around social empathy while highlighting the historical ingenuity of African Americans in this country, receiving this award from the Riley Institute is an honor,” said Matthews. “We have been recognized by our peers for both the incredible work we’ve accomplished and the profound impact we aspire to have. When we officially welcome our visitors this summer, it will truly be a proud moment for the museum.”

Among the IAAM’s most significant offerings is the Center for Family History, which will provide a trove of documents and resources to facilitate genealogical research for African Americans. Speakers at the forum also highlighted the unique first-voice approach of the museum, meaning collections and narratives are informed very directly by the communities whose stories are being told in the IAAM.

“We anticipate that the IAAM will serve as a catalyst for conversations and social progress across the country,” said Gordon. “As people visit the museum and discover more about themselves and our country’s past and present, they will take that knowledge home and perhaps consider how they might begin the work of telling their own community’s untold stories.”

When asked at the forum what cities and towns across the state can do to harness their assets and tell their own stories, Matthews emphasized that communities must be bold in their actions. “Monuments, parks, museums, signs, business incubators—everything is possible and on the table. I think simply answering the call to re-envision and reimagine is 85 percent of the work.”


About the Riley Institute at Furman University 

Furman University’s Richard W. Riley Institute advances social and economic progress in South Carolina and beyond by building leadership for a diverse society, hosting expert speakers to broaden perspectives on critical issues, supporting public education, and creating knowledge through community solutions-focused research. It is committed to nonpartisanship in all it does and to a rhetoric-free, facts-based approach to change. Learn more at