Museum in South Carolina Will Stand Where 100,000 Enslaved People Took 1st Steps on American Soil

Artist rendering of the museum
Artist rendering of the museum

Soon, the waterfront of Charleston, SC will be home to the International African American Museum (IAAM). The $100 million, 40,000-square foot facility will bridge solemn history and modern magnificence. It will offer captivating exhibits, engaging events and a breathtaking view of the Charleston Harbor.

However, this land is more than prime riverfront real estate. It connects deeply to the heritage the museum aims to commemorate. Ship voyage records reveal that nearly half of the enslaved Africans who were shipped to North America disembarked in Charleston. Many slaves took their first steps on American soil on this patch of land, which was once the largest wharf in North America. Historians estimate that more than 90 percent of all African-Americans can trace at least one ancestor to this land.

Eighteen years in the making, IAAM chief executive officer and president Michael Boulware Moore (who is the great-great-great grandson of Civil War Hero and Congressman Robert Smalls) must raise millions more before construction can begin.

The museum will include eight exhibition districts that guide visitors from the 17th century in West Africa to present-day communities. It will feature the Center for Family History, an immersive genealogical archive that will provide resources to help visitors trace their ancestry.

The museum will also include a social action lab that will hosts forums, seminars and training sessions to augment awareness and stimulate solutions on various issues. Additional space will include a multi-purpose community room, gift shop and multimedia theater.
The IAAM has raised more than $59 million. It is less than $5 million away from its benchmark. If the remaining requisite funds are raised, the museum will break ground this summer with a target opening date of 2020.

“We’re trying to create an experience that tells the truth about history, that delivers an unvarnished history,” Moore said, “but that does it in a way that people, regardless of their background, walk out feeling uplifted, feeling inspired by the perseverance of the people they’ve learned about, by just the grittiness of what they went through and the fact that they overcame that and contributed great things.”

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