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About International African American Museum

International African American Museum International African American Museum IAAM aims to re-center South Carolina’s place in global history, illuminating its pivotal role in the development of the international slave trade and the Civil War. The museum will connect visitors to their ancestors, demonstrating how enslaved Africans and free blacks shaped economic, political, and cultural development in the nation and beyond. Film, documents, and digital archives further aid visitors in placing the story of African arrival in historical context. As a partner for other research organizations, IAAM will serve as hub for regional heritage, sending visitors out across Charleston and South Carolina to access additional African American sites and experiences. Mission and Vision Nearly 80% of African Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived through Charleston. The IAAM will teach visitors this history, and encourage them to explore it at historic houses, plantations, buildings, and other sites that speak to African American heritage. These few acres witnessed one of the world’s most pivotal human migrations; no other place saw such a dramatic influx of enslaved African arrivals. IAAM is an authentic visitor experience that cannot be duplicated elsewhere in America. Board of Directors Wilbur E. Johnson, Esquire – Chairperson Mayor Steve Benjamin – Vice Chairperson Lucille S. Whipper – Secretary William Kennard – Treasurer William Barnet Peg Breen Evelyn McGee Colbert Walter Edgar, Ph.D. Richard Elliott Mike Gianoni Jonathan Green Pamela Lackey Melissa L. Lindler Ron McCray E. Erwin Maddrey Michael Boulware Moore – President & CEO Maria Kennedy Mungo Bernard Powers, Ph.D. Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Kitty Robinson Marva Smalls Rita Scott Minor Mickel Shaw Henry B. Smythe Jr., Esquire Mayor John Tecklenburg Antonio Tillis, Ph.D. Perry Keith Waring Charleston’s African American History Site of African American Origins Throughout the Atlantic slave trade, Charleston was the main port of entry for enslaved people entering the United States from the African West Coast. Ship after ship docked in Charleston, packed with hundreds of men, women, and children. No other city witnessed waves of African arrival as immense; Charleston processed nearly half of all incoming slaves to the United States. Slave labor played a critical role in the growth of Charleston; the city had a black majority for much of its history. In giving their blood, sweat, tears, and talent, these men and women contributed to the building of Charleston, leaving an indelible mark on the city. In turn, they created a new culture that would stretch across the nation. Gadsden’s Wharf Enslaved Africans arriving to Charleston were brought to a place called Gadsden’s Wharf, on the Cooper River. Originally built in 1767, war and natural disaster led to several rounds of reconstruction and expansion. In its final completed state, the wharf could hold upwards of six ships at a time. Once released from quarantine off the coast at Sullivan’s Island, slave ships proceeded onto Gadsden’s Wharf. An estimated 100,000 West Africans were brought to the wharf between 1783 and 1808 – the peak period of the international trade. slave_voyages1-lbisphpreq1 The number of enslaved persons held at Gadsden’s Wharf could range from a few to a thousand at a time. Persons awaiting sale were kept in large holding spaces, sometimes for many months. Mass casualties were not uncommon at the wharf. Many men, women, and children died on site, never even reaching the auction block. This makes Gadsden’s Wharf sacred ground. Thousands of others were sold, forced into new lives in bewildering circumstances: perhaps as domestic slaves in Charleston homes, as laborers in the rice fields of Lowcountry plantations. Many were purchased and taken far outside South Carolina, fanned out in cities and towns across the nation. Gullah Culture Once in the U.S., enslaved men and women of different ethnic groups mixed in ways that did not occur in their homeland. Diverse cultural traditions, languages, and religions were fused into a new culture – African in origin – yet unlike any particular African culture. This culture developed and flourished in the Lowcountry and down the Georgia coast to Florida, and came to be known as Gullah-Geechee. The Gullah-Geechee lived near the coast, on barrier islands that were separated from the mainland by rivers and marshes. The isolation of these communities from European culture and influence was vital to the survival of Gullah culture. With time the geographic isolation of the Gullah became one of choice. Gullah-Geechee people maintained a distinct dialect, an English-based Creole that drew upon the grammar pronunciation and vocabulary of African languages. This hybrid language served as a common bond among Africans of different ethnic groups. Plantation Life Rice was a labor-intensive crop, dependent entirely on slave labor. Africans from the rice growing regions of the continent were prized for their technical knowledge and skills. These enslaved men and women transferred their expertise onto the new landscape, and on to their American-born children. Slavery in The Lowcountry Slavery in South Carolina was different from anywhere else in America: Almost half of all of the enslaved Africans who came to the U.S. first arrived in the port of Charleston In the Lowcountry, the proportion of enslaved Africans to whites could be as high as 9:1. Enslaved people comprised nearly 50% of Charleston’s population before the Civil War Today, nearly 80% of African Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in Charleston. The Great Migration and the Diaspora At least 6 million African Americans relocated their lives and families Roughly 90% of all African Americans lived in the south before the Civil War. Some of the formerly enslaved left after the war’s end, though rampant poverty and family ties kept most of the population anchored below the Mason-Dixon Line. With the turn of the 20th century, southern blacks began to move north and west. They fled the harsh restrictions of sharecropping and racist segregation laws, and moved towards the hope of better opportunity. At least six million African Americans relocated their lives and families in the Great Migration from 1916 to 1970, settling in cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Some areas saw massive demographic shifts, with an increase in the African American population by as much as 40%. Improved wages and educational prospects helped build a more substantial black middle class in many places. Some communities prospered in their own way under segregation, aided by crucial institutions such as churches, black colleges, and schools.
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