One of the most prolific slave trading ports in the US will finally open as a museum
By Devon M. Sayers, CNN
One of America’s most prolific slave trading ports is to open as a museum after more than two decades of planning in Charleston, South Carolina.
The International African American Museum will open the weekend of January 21, 2023, the museum announced Wednesday.
The 150,000-square-foot facility will be at the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf. About a mile from City Hall, Gadsden’s Wharf is where slave ships docked for years and unloaded at least 100,000 slaves.
Up to 800 enslaved Africans “quarantined there died during the cold winter of 1807 and were unceremoniously thrown into a mass grave nearby,” according to a report from the Post and Courier newspaper.
“Committed reckoning with history is a necessary stop on the road to healing and reconciliation,” Tonya Matthews, who was named as the museum’s president and CEO last week, said in a news release.
Plans for the museum were first publicly announced by the former Mayor of Charleston, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., in 2000. “Our journey has been long because it took time to secure the optimal site,” the former mayor said in a statement.
Riley said, “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.”
The museum will include nine exhibition galleries, and an “African Ancestors Memorial Garden” on the ground floor that will have a clear view of the ocean.
Charleston is often mentioned as one of the top cities in the world to visit for its beauty, grand homes, food and its legendary Southern charm, but like many cities in the South, it is haunted by slavery. In 2018, the city apologized for its role on the slave trade.
More than 48% of all African slaves who came to the United States entered through Charleston, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and historian said in a release from the museum.
“So, for blackness, black culture, the African experience, the African American experience, slavery — however you want to slice it — this is ground zero,” said Gates.
In addition to the memorial and galleries, the museum will include a large genealogy library allowing African American ancestry research. Gates, who is also known for his popular PBS series on ancestry, “Finding Your Roots,” helped shape the museum’s Center for Family History.
Gates is among the dozens of advisory board members, which include US Rep. James Clyburn, actress Phylicia Rashad and Lonnie Bunch, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s founding director.
In recent years, other Southern cities have begun the process of reckoning with past sins of lynching and Jim Crow-era segregation.
In 2018, the first monument in the United States honoring the victims of lynching opened in Montgomery, Alabama. The Equal Justice Initiative dedicated the monument — The National Memorial for Peace and Justice — to the legacy of enslaved Black people, “African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.”
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CNN’s Dalila-Johari Paul contributed to this report.