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Discover the Avery Center

Amy Holtcamp Amy Holtcamp
The center for African American culture in Charleston.

At first glance, the stately house on Bull Street blends right in with the many elegant 19th century mansions dotting the streets of Charleston. The building was constructed in 1867 for the sum of $17,000, and its elegant cupola and classical archways evoke the Italianate designs that were popular among in the homes of prominent men of the time such N.C. Gov. John Motley Morehead.

But this home was not created as a mansion for the rich and powerful. The Bull Street building, once completed, became the first secondary school for African Americans for the newly freed African Americans in Charleston: The Avery Normal Institute.

From 1868-1954, the institute was a hub of African American intellectual life in Charleston. Graduates of the school went on to become judges, lead colleges and teach in classrooms around the state, expanding the reach of Avery's educational mission.

Although the school was closed in 1954, today the building still serves as a center for African American heritage and culture as well as a place of learning. In 1978, Avery Normal Institute was re-imagined as the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. Its mission is "to collect, preserve, and make public the unique historical and cultural heritage of African Americans in Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry."

The center's collection of artifacts and documents are displayed through a series of rotating exhibits at its museum.

In the Avery Room, archival information is used to tell the history of the Avery Normal Institute and the men and women whose hard work made it so central to Charleston.

Nearby galleries display rotating exhibits of African American art. Currently on view is a magnificent collection of sweetgrass baskets. Also, through Aug. 31 you can check out Gullah Art: Preservation, Presentation and Interpretation, a terrific assortment of work by Gullah painters and sculptors like Leroy Campbell, whose unique, elongated figures and use of mixed media are stunning.

Tours of the Avery Center are typically offered several times a day Monday-Saturday. Click here for a tour schedule. Admission is free.

Amy Holtcamp
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