Gadsden’s Wharf is the spot where tens of thousands of Africans first connected with American soil, as slaves. Now, just over 200 hundred years later in Charleston, SC, a $75 million International African American Museum will be built in their honor. The city of Charleston saw almost half of all incoming slaves in the U.S. during the slave trade.
Located on the Cooper River, Gadsden’s Wharf could hold up to 60 ships at a time. It is estimated that more than 100,000 West Africans set foot on the wharf during the international slave trade. Many Americans consider the grounds sacred. Often enslaved Africans died awaiting to be auctioned off. Men women and children that survived were then sold to work across the nation as domestic and plantation laborers.
The International African American Museum will be a 4,200-square-foot building resting on Charleston’s waterfront, just a few yards away from the historic wharf. Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr said, “There is no better site.” Portions of the land that the museum will be built on was owned by a family who had planned to build a restaurant. They decided to sell it back to the city so that the museum can be built. Private donations as well as money from the state, city and county will help with building costs.
Legendary museum exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum Associates will be designing the exhibits for the museum. Appelbaum is also responsible for building the Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibits in Washington, D.C. The use of changing exhibits and interactive displays will tell the story of African Americans from when they first entered the United States as slaves through the Civil War and beyond.
Mayor Riley made announcements concerning the proposed location of the museum. “We are standing on the site that will make this museum even more powerful and important and will resonate more deeply with everyone who attends.”
Plans for the museum have been in place since 2001. Officials hope to begin construction in 2016. Chairman of the museum’s board and local attorney, Wilbur Johnson had this to say about the significance of the location, “The discovery of this site adds many dimensions to the telling of that story. It adds an historical integrity to that story.” The wharf is also the site where the civil war began.
According to the International African American Museum’s website, Charleston, SC, is a major tourist destination but the city’s historical exhibits barely scratched the surface when telling the story of the slaves and their descendants. Even though these men and women helped build the colony of South Carolina, IAAM planners felt that the African American experience in the state and other parts of the low country was largely overlooked. The New York Times called attention to the missing elements of the slave’s narratives in a 2011 article about Charleston’s museums. The goal of the museum is to serve as a hub showcasing how African Americans impacted the nation as a whole politically, economically and culturally. Visitors will have the opportunity to view other African American historical sites throughout Charleston. Designers of the museum plan to have digital archives, documents and films on display.
By Ashley Poag
International African American Museum
Huffington Post (Associated Press)
New York Times