History and culture are top draws for tourists to Charleston and, recently, a much-anticipated museum that honors both has opened its doors to the public.
Built along the Cooper River on the site of the former Gadsden's Wharf, the International African American Museum (IAAM) is a beacon in a location where over 40% of enslaved Africans arrived by ship in America from roughly the late 1700s to early 1800s. It took more than 20 years of planning for the museum to come to fruition. The result is a visual masterpiece, both inside and out, documenting the story of African American struggle and perseverance.
A Journey to Charleston’s New International African American Museum
Your journey to the IAAM begins outdoors, where it becomes quickly apparent that this museum tells a story of incredible importance. The grounds and landscape, designed and built by Walter Hood, creative director and CEO of Hood Design Studio, offer a quiet setting to contemplate the journey of enslaved Africans who first disembarked here. The breathtaking African Ancestor Memorial Garden is meant to honor those who passed through Gadsden's Wharf. Visitors have the opportunity to learn some of this story throughout this thoughtful landscape.
Moving to the museum’s interior, visitors are invited to take time with various narratives and memorials that bring forth physical and visual meaning. Nine galleries in the $120 million museum house more than a dozen interactive exhibits, along with more than 150 historical artifacts and 30 works of art. These exhibits highlight stories from the past, present and future of the lives of African Americans all across the globe, highlighting their strength and perseverance.
There are also displays of local and regional interest, including a gallery highlighting Gullah Geechee culture common in South Carolina and other parts of the Southeastern coast.
One of the museum's most valuable assets is the IAAM Center for Family History. Dr. Shelly Murphy, coordinator of genealogy education, helped launch a groundbreaking resource for the study and advancement of African American Genealogy. The IAAM website includes multiple resources where visitors can explore their untold stories. The Center for Family History offers digital archives and a resource center. Visitors who want to know more about their personal histories can schedule time with an IAAM staffer for help in connecting with ancestral history.
A must-see for locals and visitors alike, allow a half to a full day to explore the museum and its grounds. The IAAM is closed on Mondays. Purchase tickets and get other visitor information on the website.