New Museum for New South (Charlotte)

  • Local Projects
  • 2001

The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte has a tricky mission: to faithfully tell the story of the American Southeast since 1865. It’s a period that brought the region Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil-rights movement, an economic boom, waves of northern and then international immigration, and tumultuous change. The museum opened in its 40,000-square-foot space in the city’s recently revitalized First Ward in 2001, with a permanent exhibition called “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South,” plus a range of special exhibitions. This and subsequent enhancements were made possible by $5 million of support from Leon Levine, who opened a store called Family Dollar in Charlotte in 1959 and expanded it into a company with 7,600 outlets in 45 states.

“We want to help build the quality of life here,” Levine says of his hometown of Charlotte. Levine tells us that in his philanthropy as in his businesses, he has sought to provide useful services and fill gaps in people’s lives. Selling household items at low cost allowed families to have things they might not otherwise be able to afford. The museum has gone beyond recording the region’s history and attempted to strengthen its surrounding community by hosting educational events tied to important current issues—like a discussion of problems in the city’s education system, and a bus tour of Charlotte’s neighborhoods.

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