Aiken’s African-American cultural center set to open in next few weeks


AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — Center for African American History, Arts, and Culture is nearing the early stages of completion.

Restoration efforts on Aiken’s African-American Cultural Center has been inching along for more than a decade. The building, on York Street, was purchased in 2004 through some city funding.

Now the first phase is nearly complete. With the recent push to make Aiken a destination,  the experience could a spotlight on African-American culture here in the Central Savannah River Area.

“it’s been a lot of work,” board member Paul Bush told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk about the progress to make the Center a reality. 

The Center, Located at the historic Immanuel Institute, nearing the early stages of completion. First exhibits could be open to the public in the next few weeks. 

It will feature a permanent middle passage exhibit and other rotating ones. Some will be interactive for a hands-on approach. “You can ask questions and it will also be giving facts of what’s behind the Immanuel Institute as well as some of the history of Aiken,” Bush said.

Board member Paul Bush was one of the driving forces in protecting the building — next to councilwoman Lessie Price — from being torn down when it went up for sale in the early 2000’s. 

722018 - Center for African American History, Arts, and Culture nearing early stages of completion

He says being at the Immanuel Institute is the right choice for the center.

“It was started back in he 1880’s by an African American minister who, when he built it, he built it for the purpose of education. So it continues to be what it was designed to be — an educational institution,” Bush recalled.

Construction focused on preserving as much of the original building as possible. 

“So once people are able to come in at the opening, the floors that they will be walking on, all of this is from the original build,” Bush added.

Setbacks such as money were a great challenge. “Funding was the biggest setbacks we were able to partner with Aiken,” Bush recalled.

The Center will educate visitors about the role of African-American in the history of Aiken and about slavery and the cultural achievements of Africans in general. 

“So many of our black men were helped to be founders of Aiken and so we are also going around telling that story — which is the true story of Aiken, how it was designed, how it was build, etc.,” Bush said.

Bush expects the Center will have an important emotional impact on those who visit it. 

As of yet, a set date has not been set for the opening.  Organizers say the end of July is their goal.

Most of the bottom floor, with the main exhibit, will be open. Another phase of the project will include a restaurant as well as a narrator sharing stories about the history of Aiken. 

The center still needs more funding to continue construction. Although some funding comes from the city, some also comes from private donors and events.

Donations can be made to the Center on their website by clicking here.

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