Charleston’s International African American Museum

The International African American Museum (IAAM) is set to have its grand opening on January 21st, 2023, at its new home in Charleston, South Carolina. The museum will explore the many cultures and knowledge systems that Africans in the Americas preserved and adapted. This is in addition to showcasing the various journeys and accomplishments of these people and their ancestors in South Carolina, the United States, and all over the African Diaspora. The museum will include nine exhibition galleries as well as an African Ancestors Memorial Garden on the ground level with a view of the ocean. Visitors will engage with dynamic exhibits featuring historic figures, events, and experiences from slavery through the 20th-century civil rights movement and into the present. 

Untold stories about the significance of religion, spirituality, and faith in the African and African American experience will be explored through museum displays and events. IAAM will offer creative, new, entertaining, fascinating, and engaging programming both within and outside the museum through their many programs. For guests of all ages, educational programs will be offered as an opportunity for lifelong learning. IAAM is working hard to establish K–12 curricula, field trip opportunities, digital resources, professional development initiatives, and more. 

IAAM’s Center for Family History is a one-of-a-kind research facility with a special focus on African American ancestry and genealogy. Through the creation of tools and services to aid people and families in deepening their awareness of their family's history and the part their ancestors played in influencing American history, the Center for Family History promotes IAAM's goal of becoming a unique center of learning. It features a growing digital archive of historic records such as marriage records, obituaries, and certificates of freedom that will help families trace their lineage. The Center for Family History will allow visitors to trace their “ancestors' ancestors' ancestors' ancestors' ancestors' ancestors' ancestors' ancestors”. You can contribute to the database by uploading your own family records on IAAM’s Center for Family History website. The Learning Library will serve as a resource for those interested in tracing their own ancestry through DNA testing, records, and research. 

The museum’s African Ancestors Memorial Garden will honor one of the most historic and sacred places in our nation. There will be a large infinity fountain on the edge of the original wharf, a soundscape that explores several African languages, botanic gardens, artistic installations, performances, programs, and more. This garden will be open to the public at no cost. 

Location: International African American Museum  

Charleston is frequently considered as one of the greatest cities in the world to visit because of its beauty, magnificent mansions, food, and renowned Southern charm, yet it, like many Southern cities, is haunted by slavery. In 2018, the city issued an apology for its role in the slave trade. Overlooking Charleston Harbor on the Cooper River, the museum’s location was once a port of arrival for roughly 40% of all enslaved Africans carried to North America known as Gadsden’s Wharf. The dock, which was built with slave labor and finished in 1772, was busiest between 1783 and 1808, when an estimated 100,000 African men, women, and children arrived and were sold into slavery. At the time, the 840-foot dock was the longest in North America and could hold up to six ships at once. Gadsden's Wharf is thought to have seen the most number of Africans sold into slavery over that small time span compared to any other location in North America. “So, for blackness, black culture, the African experience, the African American experience, slavery – however you want to slice it – this is ground zero,” says Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and historian, one of 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. This makes Gadsden's Wharf a special historic location worthy of commemoration, reverence, and reflection and a very fitting place for the International African American Museum as it honors the site central to the museum’s story. 

Address: 14 Wharfside Street, Charleston, SC 29401 

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Exhibits at the museum will tell undiscovered stories through traditional techniques as well as new ways inspired by innovation, technology, and digital engagement. Themes will include African diaspora connections, the spread of African American culture and influence, and struggles for justice and equality.  

Fun Facts:

  1. The grand opening of the International African American Museum is the culmination of over 20 years of hard work and the museum was recently designated by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the most anticipated museum openings 
  2. The museum’s iconic silhouette, designed by world-renowned architect Henry Cobb 
  3. The African Ancestors Memorial Garden’s design that incorporates art installations, live plantings, and an infinity reflection pool was conceived by landscape architect Walter Hood, a 2019 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” winner 

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Rajaa Sultanah is a sneaker and fashion enthusiast from Philadelphia, Pa with a Major in Sports & Entertainment and Minor in TV & Film from Howard University. She enjoys working as a creative, entrepreneur, and influencer. She is always looking for her next creative opportunity. You can follow her on Instagram @Rajaa.Sultanah