‘We can dream it, we can also build it’: Greenville Cultural Exchange Center gets new board and investor

This month, the African American history museum begins the renovation process. Volunteers are welcome to support archiving efforts.
Cultural Exchange Reopening
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 8:11 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - A Greenville museum dedicated to preserving the contributions of African Americans was closed due to COVID and has remained closed for almost three years. But thanks to a coalition of people and resources the doors will soon reopen to area students and the general public.

Ruth Ann Butler is a former teacher turned curator who often enjoys flipping through her yearbook.

“That’s Jesse Jackson, right there. (Basketball team player) Number 25,” she said.

Butler didn’t misspeak, she attended Sterling High School with Rev. Jesse Jackson and even worked on two of his presidential campaigns in the 1980′s.

“I was on both,” she said.

But Rev. Jackson isn’t the only standout you’ll learn about within this Victorian-style property Butler owns on Greenville’s Arlington Avenue.

“If it’s to be found, I will find it,” she said. “I have found everything that anybody needed.”

First opened in 1987, The Greenville Cultural Exchange Center has exhibits featuring timelines and archives on Black pioneers in law, entertainment, health care, and the military. But the space wasn’t just for learning, it was also a space for congregating, both activists and school children walked these steps and halls.

“(I used to have classes of school children) who’d come,” Butler said. “I used to have one coming through the back door and one leaving through the front.”

A site and researcher protecting the history of the past and pouring into the future.

“It’s kind of like the gem that’s in our own backyard. And we have to be the stewards of that now,” said Dr. Gayle Awan, Urban League of the Upstate president and CEO. “Change is wonderful, and we love progress, but if we don’t acknowledge and embrace where we can from then we are short-sided.”

The Urban League’s Dr. Awan is the chair for the new board of directors. In addition to new board members, the center also has a new investor. James Jordon is president of Jordan Construction Company with a footprint in multiple industries.

“We can dream it, and we can also build it,” Jordon said. “Our primary sectors are government, healthcare and education. And we do a little bit of commercial retail and are moving into the multi-family space. But in the state of South Carolina, we’re working on almost every major military base.”

It’s fitting, the general contractor and real estate redevelopment now helping a place of activism.

“We’re going to do the renovation of the property and really take a jewel that she’s created and shine it up,” Jordon said.

He estimates it will take six months, but an investment that honors the pioneers, and gives hope to the generations after.

“A symbol of empowerment. Encouragement,” Jordon said.

“I want to say she is a fierce protector,” Dr. Awan added.

This month, the museum will begin the process of renovations. Volunteers are welcome to support the archiving effort. If you are interested in preserving history contact the Urban League of the Upstate at https://urbanleagueupstate.org/contacts/