Charleston's International African American Museum

A look at plans to develop the International African American Museum on the very site where an estimated 100,000 enslaved West Africans entered the United States.

Nearly 80% of African Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in America through Charleston, SC, which was one of the country’s largest cities prior to the Civil War. According to the 1790 census, only NYC, Philadelphia and Boston were larger.

Many enslaved Africans arriving in the Antebellum South’s big city were brought to a place called Gadsden’s Wharf. Between 1783 and 1808, it is estimated that 100,000 West Africans were brought to the wharf. Dating back to 1767, the wharf on the Cooper River held up to six slave ships at a time. Mass casualties were common as thousands of West Africans were held at the wharf’s holding spaces awaiting to be sold into slavery across the South.

Now plans to convert this ground into the International African American Museum (IAAM) appear to be moving forward. Promising to add depth to the city’s historical heritage, the IAAM will connect visitors to their ancestors, demonstrating how enslaved Africans and free blacks shaped economic, political, and cultural development in the nation and beyond, when it opens in Fall 2019. Designed by Moody Nolan, PEI Cobb Freed & Partners and Hood Design, the project was recently reviewed by the City of Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review.

Here’s a look at the IAAM’s plans from its preliminary review phase.