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Black Arts and Culture

Charleston’s African American Museum Holds Grand Opening

The grand opening of Charleston’s African American Museum at Gadsden’s Wharf marks a historic moment, showcasing exhibits that tell stories of trauma and joy in African American history.



By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

In Charleston, history shifted gears and accelerated at the recent June 24 grand opening of the International African American Museum located at Gadsden’s Wharf, an historic 2.3 acre South Carolina waterfront port where most Blacks in shackles first set foot on American soil.

But this time, the footsteps that crossed the worn but refurbished wooden planked wharf belonged to Congressman James E. Clyburn, Mayor John Tecklenburg, the Rev. Howard-John Wesley, senior pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va, and  “BeBe” Winans, who offered a stirring rendition of the National Anthem. Michelle and Barack Obama offered recorded remarks, projected onto a large video display behind the makeshift stage. State Rep. J.A. Moore welcomed visitors

“As Maya Angelou would say if she were here today, it is a morning we have never seen before, and it is a morning we will never have again.” said keynote speaker Johnnetta B. Cole, an anthropologist, educator and former president of Spelman and Bennett colleges.

Organizers raised $120 million over a span of two-decades to build the 150,000-square-foot (14,000-square-meter) museum. It features nine galleries that contain nearly a dozen interactive exhibits of more than 150 historical objects and 30 works of art. One of the museum’s exhibits will rotate two to three times each year.


“This is a place that will tell a story of trauma,” said Dr. Tonya Matthews, the museum’s chief executive officer. “This is also a place that will tell stories of joy.”

The program was emceed by award-winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad and included stirring appearances by poet Nikky Finney and the McIntosh County Shouters, who perform songs passed down by enslaved African Americans.

“There’s something incredibly significant about reclaiming a space that was once the landing point, the beginning of a horrific American journey for captured Africans,” said Malika Pryor, the museum’s chief learning and education officer.

Hundreds of school and tour groups have already made reservations to visit the facility that features landscapes designed by Walter Hood, founder and creative director of Oakland-headquartered Hood Design Studios. 

The new museum in Charleston joins the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture which is located in the nation’s capital and opened in 2016. Officials at both museums said they aim to offer an accurate account of history.


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