LDS Church Donates $2 Million to the International African American Museum

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through FamilySearch International, is making a concerted effort to help establish a bridge back to Africa so individuals can reclaim their African roots,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the close of the first day of RootsTech 2019.

Elder Bednar presented a $2 million donation from the Church to the International African American Museum (IAAM), which is set to open in 2021 on the former Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina.

“It’s absolutely a day of rejoicing, said Elder Bednar. “If you consider the purposes of the International African American Museum and the objectives they hope to achieve in connecting families that have been disconnected and some of the things that we’ve learned about helping to accomplish those objectives, it’s a perfect partnership.”

IAAM CEO Michael Boulware Moore says the museum will present an “unvarnished truth” of American history with a focus on memorializing the sacrifices and contributions of Americans with African ancestry.

“This gift and the ongoing relationship that will be between FamilySearch and our museum will really just allow us to enhance our offering in really dramatic ways,” said Moore. “We’re going to tell the broad sort of expanse of African American history. But then, the Center for Family History allows people to identify their personal strand of that history. And it’s important.”

Gadsden’s Wharf was chosen as the home for the new museum due to its historical significance in the slave trade. Moore says it’s the site where more enslaved Africans landed and were sold than any other place in the country.

“To have an opportunity 200-plus years later to build this museum, to finally pay appropriate homage and respect to the people who landed there, to their sacrifices, to their contributions. contributions — that’s profound,” he added.

The donation was made primarily to help fund the creation of the Center for Family History at the IAAM. “You have a sense of identity, you have a sense of purpose when you know who you are and where you came from,” said Elder Bednar. “And that has not been possible for many of African descent. So, to begin to fill that gap, it’s a marvelous thing.”

The center promises to be one of the world’s preeminent centers for African American genealogy once completed.

Honored guests and speakers at the presentation included Michael Boulware Moore, president and CEO of the IAAM, who received the donation on behalf of the museum, and Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King III focused his remarks on the partnership between the Church and the IAAM, saying that it was evidence of a “beloved community.”

“When people understand and know their history and heritage, their genealogy, there’s no telling where it’s going to lead,” said King. “The technology that exists with the whole program and the fact that the Church makes it available is just phenomenal. “The fact is, [genealogy] gives us all something to connect upon and build relationships upon.”

Elder Bednar explained that this was just one of several efforts the Church has made to “reconnect families who previously were disconnected by the transatlantic slave trade.” Projects like the Freedman’s Bank Records database (2001) and the Freedmen’s Bureau Project (2016) have also been supported by Church donations.

“Today is not about the Church and it’s not about the gift that we offer,” added Elder Bednar. “This is really about the museum and the very important work that they’re trying to accomplish.”

Image credit: Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gives a fist-bump to Gene Stephenson, president of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, during the announcement at RootsTech that the Church is donating $2 million to the International African American Museum February 27, 2019. Intellectual Reserve, Inc.