Charleston, S.C.'s International African American Museum to Open in 2022

Mon December 07, 2020 - Southeast Edition
CHS Today

The $97 million museum project will stand 13 ft. off the ground and sit on 18 columns.
The $97 million museum project will stand 13 ft. off the ground and sit on 18 columns.
The $97 million museum project will stand 13 ft. off the ground and sit on 18 columns.

Recently, journalists took a hard hat construction tour of the nonprofit International African American Museum (IAAM) being built in Charleston, S.C., at the site of what once stood Gadsden's Wharf, the disembarkation point of up to 40 percent of all American slaves.

The museum will serve as a center that will highlight and educate others about the journey of millions of Africans, captured and forced across the Atlantic in the grueling and inhumane Middle Passage, who arrived in Charleston and other ports in the Atlantic world.

The $97 million museum project will stand 13 ft. off the ground and sit on 18 columns.

The source of its funding includes $43.4 in donations from individuals, corporations and foundations, $25 million from the city of Charleston and Charleston County, $25 million from the state of South Carolina, and $3.6 million from New Market Tax Credit.

New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners is the design architect of the museum. Founded by late Chinese American architect I.M. Pei, some of the firm's best-known work includes the crystalline extension to the Louvre in Paris, the JFK Presidential Library in Boston and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.

Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the firm who also designed the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the American Museum of Natural History, is designing the exhibits at the IAAM.

Work began on the museum in January after two decades of planning. Completion of the IAAM, located at 14 Wharfside St., is on track for summer of 2021, with the opening scheduled for 2022.

It will be built on the Cooper River with a view toward Fort Sumter and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

The aim of the IAAM is to empower its visitors with the knowledge of the past in hopes that the journey will challenge, illuminate, inspire and, ultimately, move people to action.

Among the museum's features are:

  • The African Ancestors Memorial Garden, a 103,725-sq.-ft. garden, designed by North Carolina native landscape designer Walter Hood. It will be situated on the ground level, free and open to the public, and highlight the original shoreline — the exact spot where so many captive Africans first set foot in America,
  • Gardens set aside for quiet contemplation as well as space for performances and programs,
  • Exhibitions that will share untold stories with themes that will include connections across the African diaspora, the spread of African American culture and influence, and the movements for justice and equality,
  • The Center for Family History, where visitors will have the opportunity to trace their genealogy, while changing exhibitions and special events will keep the museum empowered.

Several planned galleries also will be created within the IAAM, including the Transatlantic Experience, South Carolina Connections, Atlantic Worlds, African Roots/African Routes, Carolina Gold, Gullah Geechee, American Journeys and one devoted to changing exhibitions.