African American museum to open at prominent slave-trading port in the US: 'Road to healing'

Almost half of the enslaved African people entered America through the port of Charleston, South Carolina, and now a museum is set to open to mark the dark chapter in the community's history. Charleston was one of the most prolific slave-trading ports in America. The International African American Museum will open the weekend of January 21, 2023, announced the museum. The 150,000-square-foot museum will be built at the former site of Gadsden's Wharf, where slave ships docked for years. It is believed that at least 100,000 enslaved people were brought through the port, reported CNN. Tonya Matthews, the museum's president and CEO, said it's important to acknowledge the past to heal the pain. For the last two years of the legal slave trade, Gadsden’s Wharf was the singular point of entry.

"Committed reckoning with history is a necessary stop on the road to healing and reconciliation," said Tonya Matthews. The museum has been over two decades in the making with the initial plans being announced by former Mayor of Charleston Joseph P. Riley Jr., in 2000. "Our journey has been long because it took time to secure the optimal site," said the former mayor. "It took time to raise the resources, assemble the team, and plan every detail that would enhance the experience of being here. And it took time because we have been committed to excellence." Among other things, the museum will also include nine exhibition galleries and an "African Ancestors Memorial Garden" on the ground floor with a clear view of the ocean.
At least 800 enslaved Africans "quarantined there died during the cold winter of 1807 and were unceremoniously thrown into a mass grave nearby," according to reports. Charleston is often associated with beauty, grand food and its Southern charm but it continues to be haunted by its past. The city officially apologized for its role in the slave trade. "Either way, up or down, it will show the world—it will give the world a barometer of where we stand as a city in the 21st century as it relates to racial reconciliation," Councilman William Dudley Gregorie said.

More than just an apology, the two-page resolution is also an acknowledgment that slavery brutalized a people and stripped them of their culture and values. "The institution of slavery did not just involve physical confinement and mistreatment," read the apology. "It also sought to suppress, if not destroy, the cultural, religious, and social values of Africans by stripping Africans of their ancestral names and customs, humiliating and brutalizing them through sexual exploitation, and selling African relatives apart from one another without regard to the connection of family, a human condition universal among all peoples of the world."
"The vestiges of slavery still plague us today," said Councilman Gregorie. He brought the bipartisan resolution to the council. "So, for blackness, black culture, the African experience, the African American experience, slavery—however you want to slice it—this is ground zero," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and historian. He is also one of the dozens of advisory board members. Some of the others include U.S. Representative James Clyburn, actress Phylicia Rashad and Lonnie Bunch, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture's founding director. Apart from the memorial and galleries, the museum will also be home to a genealogy library that allows people to research African American ancestry.

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