You can’t tell the story of America without including tales from the Palmetto State. Immerse yourself in different facets of the country’s fascinating past—as well as stories and cultures that are unique to South Carolina—at these museums
An American History Lesson: Must-See Museums
Slated to open in June 2023, the International African American Museum in Charleston shines a light on the history of African Americans. You’ll learn about the state’s role in the transatlantic slave trade and Civil War, as well as the vital contributions of both enslaved Africans and free Blacks to the economic and cultural development of the country. Continue your education at the Mann-Simons Site, which tells the inspiring story of a freed couple who essentially walked from Charleston to Columbia and established a home, several businesses and a thriving community for fellow African Americans. At the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site in Greenwood, visit the childhood home of this legendary historic figure, who was born the son of a sharecropper and ultimately became a Baptist minister, civil rights trailblazer and the president of Morehouse College.
Experience the culture of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans who were transported to South Carolina’s sea and barrier islands to labor on rice, indigo and cotton plantations. See the historic “Little Blue House,” which holds the museum collection of The Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island or watch presentations on Gullah and Lowcountry crafts and agricultural methods at the Gullah Museum in Georgetown. On St. Helena Island, stroll the 50-acre National Historic Landmark District of the Penn Center—founded in 1862 as a school for formerly enslaved Africans—featuring historic structures, cottages and a gift shop. During the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made several visits to the Penn Center, where he drafted the early words of his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech.
Native American History
For thousands of years before Europeans arrived in North America, indigenous tribes lived on the land now known as South Carolina. Learn about these ancient civilizations at several museums, such as Walhalla’s Museum of the Cherokee in South Carolina, which tells the history of this agricultural tribe that settled in established villages throughout northwestern South Carolina, growing corn, beans and squash, as well as tending to orchards. Meanwhile, the Catawba Cultural Center in Rock Hill preserves the culture of the Catawba people through its powwows, storytelling and tribal craft classes such as beading and basket weaving. At Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, an exhibit explains how the Kiawah helped settlers find high ground at Albemarle Point to stave off conflicts long enough to develop the state’s first permanent settlement.
Stories of Statehood
How did South Carolina come to be what it is today? At Columbia’s South Carolina State Museum, the state’s storyline spans prehistoric times with dinosaur exhibits and fossils, Revolutionary War and Civil War displays, and modern-day art and technology. You also can chart the history of the state through maps, photographs and drawings at Charleston’s grand South Carolina Historical Society Museum.
As one of the 13 colonies seeking independence from Great Britain, South Carolina was a major player in the Revolutionary War, with more than 200 battles and skirmishes fought on its lands. Start your journey at the Revolutionary War Visitor Center at Camden, which highlights the state’s role in the turning point of the war. Then, see the reconstructed Kershaw-Cornwallis House & Gardens and visit the forested site of the devastating 1780 Battle of Camden at the Camden Battlefield and Longleaf Pine Preserve. In Blacksburg, relive an important American victory—dubbed “the turn of the tide of success” by Thomas Jefferson—at Kings Mountain National Military Park, where you can peruse the museum exhibits, watch a live-action film and walk the 1.5-mile battlefield trail.