Our History

The Center for Africa American History Art and Culture will be housed in the historic Immanuel Institute Building, located on the corner of York and Richland streets in Aiken, South Carolina. The Center will preserve the legacy begun in 1881 by Rev. W. R. Coles, a Presbyterian missionary. From humble beginnings in a small six-room house Rev. Coles established The Immanuel Institute to educate African Americans. In 1889 he constructed this building to house the growing school.

Through the years the building has housed a number of educational institutions. Among them were Coles Academy, Coles Normal and Industrial School, Immanuel Institute, Jackson School, Andrew Roberts Institute, and St. Gerard Catholic School.

In 2004, a few local community leaders recognized that this historic landmark should be preserved and used to capture the rich history of Aiken’s African American Community. To date, a dedicated board of directors has raised 1.2 million dollars and purchased, renovated and restored the outside of the building to its 1889 presence with the help of city and state grants and pledges from an inspired community. The Immanuel Institute building is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Work continues inside the building to create a high-tech, interactive learning center where visitors from near and far can see, smell, hear, touch and taste how Aiken’s African American history is interwoven with our nation’s history. We are eagerly anticipating opening in 2017. Meanwhile, programming is ongoing. The Center has hosted lecture series, art shows, travelling exhibits, special events, and concert series in the community. Check our calendar for upcoming events.