Ford’s ancestors were enslaved on Hilton Head Island, about 100 miles south of Charleston. Over the years, her family experienced Jim Crow laws (state and local laws that imposed racial segregation in the American South after the end of the Civil War) and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“You can never forget slavery or Jim Crow,” Ford said, “but [the museum] can bring people together on a higher level, a moral level.” She hopes visitors will come from all over the world “to see what was.”
And, as Mathews noted, to see what else might be. “The museum is a launching pad for people’s brave curiosity,” said the museum’s CEO. “I’m a fan of raised eyebrows. I don’t want people to visit and think they’ve completed their journey through black history in one museum visit. What success looks like is that people think, ‘there’s a lot of things I don’t know, so I’m going to pick up a book and find out more’.”
Rediscovering America is a BBC Travel series that tells the inspiring stories of forgotten, overlooked or misunderstood aspects of the United States, flipping the script on familiar history, cultures and communities.
Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebookor follow us on Twitter and instagram.
If you liked this story, sign up for bbc.com’s weekly features newsletter called “The Essential List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.