A young Black boy looks thoughtfully at a painting in a museum gallery. Stock photo.
Photo Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc.

The International African American Museum is Opening in Charleston, South Carolina

The International African American Museum will emphasize the international aspects of the diaspora, such as providing resources to help families trace their genealogical ancestry.

The International African American Museum is set to open its doors in Charleston, South Carolina, shedding light on one of the nation's most historically significant slave trading ports. The museum's location near Gadsden's Wharf, where an estimated 45% of enslaved Africans entered America, serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles and contributions of African Americans throughout history.

With a mission to explore the profound impact of African Americans' labor and resistance on the nation and the world, the museum houses a wide array of exhibits and artefacts. Visitors can immerse themselves in a journey that encompasses the African American experience, from the forced infusion of Black cultural energy into America to the lasting consequences of that history. Notably, the International African American Museum stands as the first major institution of its kind to fully integrate the Afro-Atlantic world, including Africa itself, into the narrative.

In addition to its thought-provoking exhibits, the museum boasts a dedicated genealogy research center. Families seeking to trace their ancestry from the time of their arrival on American soil will find valuable resources and assistance within this center. By facilitating connections and providing historical context, the International African American Museum aims to empower individuals to understand and appreciate their heritage fully.

During the opening ceremony on Saturday, Joseph Riley, former Mayor of Charleston, North Carolina, emphasized the importance of embracing truth and acknowledging shared history. "Truth sets us free, free to understand, free to respect and free to appreciate the full spectrum of our shared history, free to feel empathy and common purpose, and free to build a stronger future together," Riley remarked.

The inauguration of the museum coincides with a period where the significance of Black people's survival through slavery, racial apartheid, and economic oppression is being questioned throughout the United States. However, the leaders of the International African American Museum stress that its existence is not a response to efforts to suppress history but rather an invitation to engage in dialogue and discovery.

One of the museum's standout galleries, "African Roots," presents a wealth of rarely encountered data. This exhibit establishes connections between African art forms and spiritual practices and their counterparts in Latin America, such as Candomblé in Brazil and Santeria in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Another captivating feature is the gallery dedicated to the Gullah Geechee culture, a West-African-sourced heritage prevalent along the Atlantic coast of Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The gallery includes a captivating full-scale "praise house" and a poetic film commissioned by the museum from the Ummah Chroma collective, directed by Julie Dash.

Opening to the public on June 27, the International African American Museum houses a Center for Family History, generously supported by FamilySearch International of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church donated $2 million in 2019 to aid in the construction of this vital resource, which serves as a hub for the study and advancement of African American genealogy, encompassing connections to Africa and the African diaspora.

After over two decades of dedicated efforts, the long-awaited opening of the museum faced unforeseen obstacles that led to significant delays. Originally scheduled to debut in 2020, the project encountered setbacks due to the far-reaching impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.