In January of 2004, a group of interested citizens came together to discuss the foreclosure proceedings on the Richter building, situated at the corner of Harnett & 4th Streets. A growing number of historic buildings have been lost over the years to redevelopment, and many residents felt that we needed to preserve more of Wilmington’s most precious assets. The building was purchased in 2001 by the Community Health Foundation to provide services to the residents living in north side neighborhoods. The concept was good, but the public funding sought by the foundation never materialized. The goal of preserving the Richter building for community service was the driver that led to the process where the idea was born to create an African–American Heritage Museum. The site of the first bloodshed associated with the events of 1898 took place at this intersection. The Richter building had been identified by the community as a suitable site for a museum, and was also a good fit with the City’s recently adopted North Side Plan.
The African-American Heritage Foundation of Wilmington (AAHFW) was incorporated the following month on February 25, 2004. The Southeastern Alliance for Community Change served as fiscal sponsor during the process of applying for its charitable status as a newly formed organization under IRS code 501(C)(3). An interim Board of Directors was formed and included the following positions: President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary and One At-Large member. The Richter building was purchased in May at public auction by a private individual and is being leased to the foundation with a right of first refusal to purchase within a three-year period to allow time for a capital campaign.
The foundation received its approval from the Internal Revenue Service in November 2004 and expanded the board of directors to nineteen members the following spring. The foundation’s major goals are to enhance public awareness of the lives and contributions of African Americans across disciplines, to develop and present educational programs, and to create a living and permanent museum in Wilmington to both honor and celebrate the cultural impact African Americans have had on American society. The foundation initiated a major fundraising campaign in 2007 to begin the process of research and discovery, and begin the challenge of preserving and restoring the building to establish a museum at the site.