On Tuesday, June 27, the new International African American Museum will open on the very spot that was once the disembarkation point, Gadsden's Wharf.
In a press release, the museum describes its mission as exploring "the history, culture, and impact of the African American journey on Charleston, on the nation, and on the world, shining light and sharing stories of the diverse journeys, origin, and achievements of descendants of the African Diaspora."
The project has been in the works for more than two decades (an earlier projection that the museum would open by the end of last year contributed to our decision to name Charleston one of Frommer's Best Places to Go in 2022).
The finished product has nine different galleries containing scores of historical artifacts, artworks, films, interactive digital displays, and other items. The scope encompasses West and Central Africa, the U.S., the Caribbean, and beyond, with special emphasis on South Carolina Lowcountry connections, according to the museum.
(International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina | Credit: Sony by Greg Noire)
Exhibits include a large-scale film recounting the transatlantic Middle Passage by which enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas, a gallery dedicated to the Lowcountry's Gullah Geechee communities, and displays detailing African roots, the U.S. plantation system, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and other key chapters.
(Re-created Gullah Geechee praise house at the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina | Credit: Sony by Greg Noire)
Among the museum's noteworthy original artifacts are a uniform from the predominantly Black 24th U.S. Infantry Buffalo Soldier Regiment (1869–1951); a jug made by enslaved potter David Drake; and tennis rackets that belonged to Althea Gibson, the first Black athlete to win a Grand Slam Title. (Both Drake and Gibson were South Carolinians, by the way.)
Throughout the galleries, artwork, poems, films, and other creative pieces have been placed near displays to be "in conversation with the historical content ... and provide alternative vantage points for understanding history and the role that creative expression plays in both shaping and reflecting its arc."
Outside, the museum's African Ancestors Memorial Garden provides an opportunity to reflect amid landscaping and art installations at the former site of Gadsden's Wharf in Charleston Harbor.
Opening to the public June 27, the International African American Museum charges $19.95 for general admission and $9.95 for seniors (62 and older) and kids ages 6 through 16. Admission is free for kids ages 5 and younger. There's no charge for visiting the garden.
Reserve tickets in advance at IAAMuseum.org.