CHARLESTON, S.C. – The great-great-grandson of a slave who commandeered a Confederate ship and took it to Union forces blockading the South Carolina coast is the new president and CEO of the planned $75 million International African American Museum in Charleston.
Museum officials announced on Friday that Atlanta businessman Michael Boulware Moore, who has deep family roots in South Carolina, will head the museum, which officials hope will open in late 2018.
Moore is a direct descendant of Robert Smalls, who made history by commandeering the steamboat Planter in 1862. Smalls later went on to become a South Carolina congressman during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War.
The announcement was made at the planned site of the museum, the location of a former wharf on the Cooper River where tens of thousands of slaves first set foot in the United States.
It was on the Cooper River on a foggy spring night more than 150 years ago that Smalls commandeered an ammunition ship, steamed upriver to pick up family and friends, and then slipped past five Southern batteries in Charleston Harbor.
Smalls returned to Charleston a year later to pilot a Union ironclad in an attack on Fort Sumter. After the war, besides serving as a congressman, he was a member of the South Carolina General Assembly and a federal customs inspector.
“This is by far the most important job responsibility challenge I have ever had,” said Moore, who has worked with businesses large and small and plans to move to Charleston.
He said he was standing where his ancestors first stepped foot in the United States and that his great-great grandfather Smalls “at the age of 23 on the morning of May 13, 1862, created history right out here.”
“He sailed that boat right out here and past Fort Sumter.”
He added that he felt “a real connection to this project and to this land.”
“I can’t imagine what those people who were offloaded from those slave ships must have felt.”
Former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who is helping with fundraising efforts, expects the needed money to be pledged so construction can begin next year.
The museum is expected to take 18 months to build.
Ralph Appelbaum, who designed exhibits for the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the United States Capitol Visitor Reception Center in Washington, will design exhibits for the museum.