New Museum Set For Largest US Enslaving Port

An artist's rendering of Charleston's proposed African-American history museum.

An artist’s rendering of Charleston’s proposed African-American history museum.

By Free Radical

The city of Charleston has announced its plans to create the International African American Museum in 2020. The facility is scheduled to cost $100 million and span over 40,000 square feet. The proposed construction site is set for Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina where the vast majority of enslaved Africans entering the US first disembarked.

The project is more than 18 years in the making and was first proposed in 2000 by former Charleston mayor Joe Riley. Development has been gradual but currently $59 million has been raised, more of half which has come from the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina. The state has promised additional funds as the Museum gets more private donations.

The location of the site is very intentional. IAAM CEO and president Michael Boulware Moore noted, “I understand tens of thousands of people, including my ancestors, disembarked there in chains. I am confronted by the emotions that must have been felt on that space and just by the enormity of what happened.”

The proposed museum is intended to cover 17th century West Africa to the present day. It will include a Center for Family History genealogical site, and a social action lab where solutions can be crafted to contemporary problems ostensibly stemming from enslavement.

Yet despite the notable efforts of its supporters, the museum is not without controversy. The land was previously purchased by the locally prominent restaurateur Balish Family for $600,000. To gain the site, the city had to purchase it from the Balishes for more than five times what they paid for it at $3.5 million according to This profiteering by groups who are not people of color, it can be argued, only reinforces and exacerbates inequality that originated in slavery.

The IAAM site follow the highly celebrated opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC last year whose only notable hitches included long waits for tickets and small stunts pulled by racists. The proposed Obama Presidential library in Chicago however has attracted much more derision as community members have agitated to ensure that it not only chronicles the past but also targets current maladies with the input of local residents. Charleston’s IAAM would be wise to take note of the importance of preserving the past while not repeating it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *