Black center in Aiken seeks more funds

AIKEN --- It will take another $1.5 million and close to two years for the Center for African American History, Art and Culture to open.

Wade Brodie, the chairman for Aiken Corp., the company that owns the center at York Street and Richland Avenue, said $1.5 million has been raised since the project began about six years ago, but additional funds are needed to purchase and place exhibits in the building, which was a schoolhouse for former slaves in the late 1800s.

Organizers have planned a fundraiser at USC Aiken next month to help boost the campaign to open the center.

"We just found out what designing the exhibits will cost; we have to finish the construction work upstairs and on the inside, but outside renovation is complete," Mr. Brodie said.

The center's organizers received a $12,000 grant last month that will go toward completing construction on the building's second floor.

More funds are needed for construction and the computerized and structural exhibits that will showcase the history of local blacks from the time they left Africa, traveled to Charleston, S.C., and then to Aiken, Mr. Brodie said.

Once the additional money is raised, it will take a year to complete the center's exhibits, he said.

The city of Aiken donated $360,000 to the project, and the county has given $100,000, Mr. Brodie said. The state granted $250,000 to the center. The community has also helped raise funds since the renovation began several years ago.

There was some controversy surrounding the project initially.

"I think there was some concern about paying to renovate this building, because people thought this was just another museum," he said. "It will be a learning center that will bring tourism and even more of a presence downtown."

Aiken Corp. recently hired a part-time executive director to plan fundraising events and write grant proposals, said T. Ella Strother, board member for the cultural center. USC Aiken will hold an Evening of Jazz at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 in the Etheridge Center to help raise funds. The sale of the book, A Pictorial History of African-Americans in Aiken County, which Mrs. Strother co-wrote, will also benefit the center.

She said the board will likely seek additional help from the county and city to ensure the project achieves its 2011 open date.

"The economy has had an impact on us completing this renovation, so we're going to need all the help we can get from the city, county and the community," she said. "This is something that will benefit our whole community, so we want to see this come to fruition."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (803) 648-1395 ext. 110, or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

WANT TO HELP?

To purchase a copy of A Pictorial History of African-Americans in Aiken County, call the Aiken Downtown Development Association at (803) 649-2221.