Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina has a traumatic history. Charleston was a major port city during the transatlantic slave trade, and Gadsden’s Wharf — named after the 18th-century politician and slave owner Christopher Gadsden — was particularly infamous. Between 1783 and 1808, an estimated ten hundred thousand enslaved people from Africa arrived here in chains. Thousands of miles from home, they were held for months in brutal conditions, separated from loved ones who they often never saw again, and sold into lives of servitude and extreme cruelty. Centuries of denial followed. Finally, in June 2023, the International African American Museum (IAAM) opened at this site. Its aim is to honour the experiences of the enslaved and their descendants, telling “the untold stories of the African American journey… at one of the country’s most prolific slave trading ports, where some historians estimate more than 45 per cent of enslaved Africans entered the US.”
ADDRESSING THE PAST
The museum has nine galleries. They explore the cultures and knowledge systems retained and adapted by Africans in the Americas, and the diverse experiences and achievements of these individuals and their descendants. Exhibits include hundreds of artefacts related to the transatlantic slave trade, as well as films, images and other media representing the African-American experience in a critical way. The museum also has the Center for Family History, a genealogy and ancestry resource centre that helps African-Americans trace their ancestry, and the African Ancestors Memorial Garden, a place of reflection and contemplation that has a fountain, botanic gardens, artistic installations for performances and more.