Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, International African American Museum, and Charleston Gaillard Center Present

Truth be Told: Vesey

No upcoming perfomances found for this event.

A discussion with leading American writers and thinkers about the truth around Denmark Vesey and his planned uprising, the impact and outcomes in the intervening 200 years, and a look at the present and future of those themes in the South today. Panelists include:

  • Lee J. Bennett, Jr., Mother Emanuel AME Church Historian and panel moderator
  • W. Kamau Bell, Comedian, Director, and Executive Producer
  • Charlamagne tha God, Media Mogul and TV Personality
  • Dr. Tonya M. Matthews, President & CEO of the International African American Museum
  • Dr. Tamara Butler, Executive Director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
  • Dr. Bernard Powers, Founding Director of the College of Charleston’s Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston
  • BAMUTHI (Marc Bamuthi Joseph), Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the Kennedy Center, librettist and poet
Lee J. Bennett, Jr.
W. Kamau Bell
Charlamagne tha God
Dr. Tamara Butler
Dr. Tonya M. Matthews
Dr. Bernard Powers
BAMUTHI (Marc Bamuthi Joseph)

Denmark Vesey Bicentenary | July 14 – 16

The Charleston Gaillard Center, a leader for performing arts in the Southeast, is partnering with Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the soon-to-open International African American Museum (IAAM), to mark the bicentenary of freedom fighter Denmark Vesey’s planned uprising to free the enslaved people of Charleston through three days of free and paid cultural performances and conversations. Taking place July 14-16, 2022, the Gaillard Center will open its doors to the Charleston community to acknowledge America’s difficult history of race and slavery, and use arts and entertainment to bridge divides, build dialogues, and support healing in a city that historically saw some of the first enslaved men, women and children enter through its port, and only six years ago, witnessed the racially motivated murder of nine congregants at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

Consisting of discussion panels, musical and comedy performances, and installations, the three-day initiative will bring together prominent artists, scholars, educators, and the community to reflect on Denmark Vesey—a formerly enslaved man and respected, multilingual church leader and businessman—and redefine his place in American history. Attendees will participate in a vital journey of acknowledgement and exploration of the past, present, and future with conversations that reckon with the abominable truths and ongoing repercussions of slavery. The weekend will also include and center performances that aim to facilitate healing through the arts.

Thursday, July 14 at 7:30pm – Truth be Told: Vesey
Friday, July 15 at 8:00pm – Performance by multi-platinum singer, songwriter, producer, and actor Anthony Hamilton
Saturday, July 16 at 5:00pm – Orchestrating Freedom: a free concert featuring the Charleston Symphony and Lowcountry Voices
Saturday, July 16 at 9:00pm – Performance by Comedian DL Hughley

Learn more about all the events at

About Lee J. Bennett, Jr.

Over thirty years of managerial and leadership experience in complex and diverse organizations. In-depth interagency experience having served in an appointed position within the Senior Executive Service and several years within the Executive Office of the President.

Border security operations experience includes assignments at several Joint Operational Intelligence Centers within the state of Texas. Served as the National Guard Bureau’s liaison to the U.S. Border Patrol and served as agency liaison for the National Guard Bureau supporting the 2010 Winter Olympics Coordination Center. Was part of a project team that assisted the National Guard Bureau in the establishment of two National Joint Interagency Training Centers and the development of a master training plan that focused on the training and education strategy for homeland defense within the National Guard Bureau. Was also a part of a team that designed a common Center of Excellence organizational model for the centers and schools within the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Promoted to Director Human Resources and Vice President while a member of Abrams Learning and Information Systems, Inc.(ALIS).

Prior to joining ALIS, held senior positions for four years in the Executive Office of the President, The White House, as the Deputy Chief of Staff and Principal Personnel Assistant to the Director of the National Drug Control Policy. Served in the U.S. Army for over 24 years as an Infantry Officer. Held command and staff positions in a variety of infantry units to include the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Air Assault/Airborne Division and United States Southern Command.

A native of Charleston, who grew up on the east-side of the city known as “Da Burra.” His African American neighborhood was a part of an urban renewal effort in the early 1960’s that cleared homes for the construction of the then Gilliard Auditorium. He attended what was Buist Elementary School and lived less than a block away from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Gadsden’s Wharf, which now is the site of the International African American Museum. He graduated from Burke High School.

He attended Emanuel AME Church at an early age. Lee’s interest in the church’s history and his passion to serve in the church is what led him to join the church historical committee and later became the Church Historian. The history of the AME Church and Denmark Vesey are intrinsic with numerous branches and sequels.

About W. Kamau Bell

W. Kamau Bell is a stand-up comedian and the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award winning CNN docu-series United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell. His latest stand-up comedy special, Private School Negro, is available on Netflix. Kamau wrote a book with the easy-to-remember title, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian. He’s the ACLU Celebrity Ambassador for Racial Justice and serves on the advisory boards of Hollaback! and Donors Choose.

Learn more about W. Kamau Bell’s new book, Do the Work.

About Charlemagne tha God

Lenard “Charlamagne Tha God” McKelvey is a multimedia mogul, Radio Hall of Fame inductee, and bestselling author. He co-hosts the hottest radio show in the U.S., The Breakfast Club, heard by over 4.5 million listeners daily, as well as hosts Tha God’s Honest Truth, a late-night show on Comedy Central co-created with Stephen Colbert. With nearly two decades at the pulse of culture in TV and Radio, Charlamagne has grown his media empire with several partnerships including The Black Effect Podcast Network with IHeart Media, his scripted audio company SBH Productions with his partner renowned comedian, actor, and writer Kevin Hart; and his publishing imprint Black Privilege Publishing at Simon & Schuster. He also is a prominent figure as an executive producer for numerous television and film projects.

Additionally, Charlamagne is the author of The New York Times bestseller Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It and the nationally bestseller Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me. With a deep passion for mental health especially in the Black community, Charlamagne founded the Mental Wealth Alliance (MWA), his forward-thinking foundation created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black communities.

About Dr. Tamara Butler
Dr. Tamara T. Butler is a vintage clothing enthusiast, plant mom, and an educator who draws upon lessons learned growing up on Johns Island, South Carolina. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and Associate Dean of Strategic Planning & Community Engagement for the College of Charleston Libraries. In February 2022, the Post and Courier named her one of “12 Black Leaders to Know in South Carolina.”
About Dr. Tonya M. Matthews

Dr. Tonya M. Matthews is a thought-leader in institutionalized equity and inclusion frameworks, social entrepreneurship, and the intersectionality of formal and informal education. Her background as both poet and engineer have made her a highly sought-after visioning partner on boards and community building projects, as well as a frequent public speaker and presenter for communities across all ages and venues.

A non-profit executive leadership veteran, Dr. Matthews is currently President and CEO of the International African American Museum (IAAM) located in Charleston, SC at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf, one of our nation’s most prolific former slave ports.   IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history and thus, one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as America continues the walk toward “a more perfect union.”

Dr. Matthews has storied career in leadership. Most recently, she served as Associate Provost for Inclusive Workforce Development & Director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center for Wayne State University and, prior to that, as the President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center – flexing her science and tech educational equity chops in both roles. Dr. Matthews credits her time at Wayne State University for a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of education, career, community agency, and self-efficacy which she refers to as the “pre-K through Gray” pipeline. While at the Michigan Science Center, she founded The STEMinista Project, a movement to engage girls in their future with STEM careers and tools. She continues this work today through STEMinista Rising, supporting professional women in STEM – and the colleagues who champion them – with an inclusive emphasis on women of color.

Dr. Matthews’ dedication to community and her accomplishments is widely recognized. She was noted as one of the Most Influential Women in Charleston (Charleston Business Magazine, 2021) and honored as Trailblazer by Career Mastered Magazine (2017). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education and was appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations to the National Assessment Governing Board. Dr. Matthews is a published poet, included in 100 Best African American Poems (2010) edited by Nikki Giovanni, and has written several articles and book chapters on inclusive governance, non-profit management, and fundraising.

Dr. Matthews received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her B.S.E. in biomedical and electrical engineering from Duke University, alongside a certificate in African/African American Studies. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and The Links, Inc. Dr. Matthews is a native of Washington, D.C. and, in each community she has settled, is known for planting roots on the side of town best for keeping an eye on progress.


Bamuthi (Marc Bamuthi Joseph) is a 2017 TED Global Fellow, an inaugural recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice Initiative, and an honoree of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. He is also the winner of the 2011 Herb Alpert Award in Theatre and an inaugural recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. In the Spring of 2022, he was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Joseph’s work investigates cultural erasure and Black Dignity through performances that range from opera to film. His opera libretto, “We Shall Not Be Moved”, was named one of 2017’s Best Classical Music Performances by The New York Times. His piece “The Just and The Blind” investigates the crisis of over-sentencing in the prison industrial complex and premiered at a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall in March 2019. His latest opera, “it all falls down” premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2022, and his next operatic commission, “Watch Night”, premieres at The Perelman Center in New York in 2023 under the direction of Bill T. Jones.

Formerly the Chief of Program and Pedagogy at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco, Mr. Joseph currently serves as Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.


About Dr. Bernard E. Powers

Dr. Powers earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American history at Northwestern University and in 2018 retired as professor emeritus of history from the College of Charleston after twenty-six years. Currently Powers is the founding director of the College of Charleston’s Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston. He has presented papers on various aspects of African American history at conferences and reviewed books and manuscripts for journals and presses. His work appears in book chapters and in scholarly and popular periodicals. His article “Community Evolution and Race Relations in Reconstruction Charleston, S.C.” was included in the Century of Excellence Centennial Volume 1900-2000 of The South Carolina Historical Magazine (July,2000). A recent book chapter is “Churches as Places of History: The Case of Nineteenth Century Charleston, South Carolina,” in Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites (2015). Powers is the author of Black Charlestonians: A Social History 1822-1885, (1994) a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Book for 1995. He was an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of South Carolina (2006) and editor of 101 African Americans Who Shaped South Carolina (2020) both published by the University of South Carolina Press. He co-authored We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel (2016) which contextualizes the city’s 2015 racially motivated murders. Powers most recent essay is entitled “Denmark Vesey, South Carolina, and Haiti: Bourne, Bound and Battered by a Common Wind” in James Spady’s Fugitive Movements: Commemorating the Denmark Vesey Affair and Black Radical Antislavery in the Atlantic World (2022). His current research focuses on African Methodism in South Carolina. Bernard Powers has appeared in documentary films, including the PBS production, “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” and “Emanuel: The Untold Story of the Victims and Survivors of the Charleston Church Shooting.” Powers has been extensively involved in public history and has served as a consultant for historic sites. He is the founding past president of the Charleston Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He was also president of the South Carolina Historical Association and of the Advisory Board of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. He is an emeritus trustee of the Historic Charleston Foundation and a former member of the City of Charleston Tourism Commission. Powers has also served as the interim president of Charleston’s International African American Museum (IAAM).

In 2019 the Association for the Study of African American Life and History recognized Powers’ lifetime commitment to “research, writing, and activism in the field of African American life and history” with the Carter Godwin Woodson Scholars Medallion.