CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Pride, reverence, dignity, and celebration marked the dedication of the $120 million International African American Museum here on Saturday, June 24th.
The 150,000-square-foot museum, the result of a 20-year effort, is located at the historic Gadsen’s Wharf, where approximately 40 percent of enslaved Africans were brought to Charleston and sold into bondage from throughout central and West Africa. Speakers, performers, and attendees came from all over the country to mark the museum’s opening and reflect on its importance in today’s world.
The mistress of ceremonies for the dedication was Phylicia Rashad, veteran actress and dean of Howard University’s Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts, who had stirring words about the importance of the museum as well as of her own connection to South Carolina.
“Today, we reclaim this land and honor the countless lives lost and enslaved with a monument to our history, our families, our heritage, our contributions and, yes, our future,” Rashad told the crowd of ABOUT HOW MANY. “The waters touching the shores here are the same waters that connect us back to Africa.”
She continued, “The memories contained in the stones, these trees, the grasses, the soil are now forever set free to be recognized and honored.”
Rashad also said South Carolina is special to her. “It is the birthplace of my mother, her siblings, her parents, her grandparents. They were all born and educated here in South Carolina. … South Carolina is home.”
Inside the museum, Atlantic Worlds is a gallery that features artifacts and other exhibit pieces that depict various aspects of the African experience during the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Though there is a clear focus on this event and of the trajectory of Black Americans since this time in history, there are also artifacts that depict aspects of culture and life on the African continent before and after slavery.
American Journeys is an exhibit space where one can learn about Black Americans from South Carolina, past and present, ensuring that South Carolina’s own Black historical lineage is forever preserved in the memory of rich, African heritage as well as in the struggle for freedom here in the United States.
Also showing as a special presentation is Men of Change, an exhibit based on the experiences and contributions of Black American men in United States history. The museum is also unique in that it houses a space for genealogy research to assist Black Americans with making these connections to their history and lineage.
The dedication ceremony included former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama via pre-recorded message, Tonya Matthews, president and CEO of the IAAM, scholar Johnetta Cole, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, the Rev. Telley Gadsen, musician and oral historian Amadou Kouyate, former Charleston Poet Laureate, Marcus Amaker, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and a libation from Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, whose given name is Marquetta Goodwine.
As Queen Quet led the audience in the libation in the Gullah Geechee dialect, the phrase “We be Gullah Geechee” filled the space, acknowledging the ancestors. Simultaneous celebrations took place in Marion Square, hosted by media personality Charlamagne tha God, a Charleston native. Other notable guests included U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who has long championed the museum project, Brenda Lauderback, chairwoman of Denny’s Corporation, and and family, and Hrm. Oba Adegbolu Adefunmi II, king of the Yoruba people of North America.
The museum opened Tuesday, June 27th, to the public. Visits can be planned through reservation online at https://iaamuseum.org/plan-your-visit/.