CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. is taking a step back from his active role with the International African American Museum.

It comes as the museum reaches a major milestone – the ability for staff members to move into the museum, install exhibits, and prepare for its first visitors.

Since first proposing the museum during his State of the City address twenty-two years ago, Charleston’s longtime mayor and museum’s founder said he’s had no higher priority than to see the museum become reality.

“Our journey has been long, because it took time to secure the optimal site: a site that is called ‘sacred’ because it is precisely where so many enslaved Africans arrived in our country, and many died here. It took time to raise the resources, assemble the team, and plan every detail that would enhance the experience of being here. And it took time because we have been committed to excellence,” said Riley in a letter Wednesday.

Grateful of the team who helped launch the effort from the beginning stages, to its volunteers and financiers, and those involved through its current state, Riley said those involved were all “stewards of this Museum’s future.”

“The International African American Museum has been the most important work of my life, because I believe so strongly that it is long past time that we tell our true history, our country’s history. When we do, we can begin to heal and move forward together,” he said.

But as the museum inches closer to opening, Mayor Riley said he’s decided it was time to bring his active role to an end. Instead, he will serve only as a lifetime member of the board.

He plans to devote his time to writing and teaching.

“I do so with great optimism. In the evening light, the Museum’s distinctive pale golden bricks seem to shimmer. Sun rays leap through the windows. The building appears to be a gatherer of light, reminding us of Dr. King’s famous words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”

IAAM released a statement reading in part:

“We are incredibly grateful to Mayor Joseph P. Riley. No one has been closer to or more committed to this project than he. From a powerful, inspiring announcement in a state-of-the-city address in 2000 to thousands of hours meeting with individuals—knocking on doors, telling the stories that have rarely been told and often overlooked—Riley has been passionately and unassailably committed to the creation of this museum.

In his farewell statement, Joe Riley thanked all of those who have walked this decades long path with him and declared his support for the International African American Museum, its leadership and the community of staff and volunteers that will bring the museum to life. We have come so far from that charging paragraph in a challenging speech long ago. We are proud of the journey his leadership and tenacity has driven us through.”

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg also reacted to the news, saying:

“For more than fifty years, Joe Riley has personified the highest ideals of public service. And I can think of no greater example of this than his tireless work on the International African American Museum—a great and enduring monument not to his own history-making achievements, but to the full and true history of our city and its people. On behalf of our citizens, I’m honored to be able to thank him for that service, and for his lifelong and ongoing commitment to making our great city even greater than he found it.”