The International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina

International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina

The International African American Museum opened in Charleston, South Carolina in June of this year. The museum literature describes the specific site, Gadsden’s Wharf, as historically sacred, hallowed ground. The wharf, once the largest in America, was where an estimated 100,000 enslaved Africans first set foot on the North American continent.  It is important to know that the structure does not touch the ground. Instead, this museum rises up on pillars overlooking the lapping waves that brought ancestors across the Atlantic four centuries ago. The rectangular, single-story structure appears to float 13 feet above the ground, honoring the footprints that went before.

The wharf is where those wretched slave ships docked before our enslaved ancestors were taken off and onto the auction block. Would it be an exaggeration to say that ghosts prowl the waterfront?

The new 150,000-square-foot facility has been a long time coming. In 2018, the City of Charleston made a formal apology to the world for its key role in the slave trade, and in 2000, plans for the museum were announced by Joseph P. Riley, Jr., former Mayer of Charleston.  Guests enter the museum through the African Ancestor Memorial Gardens, leading into nine exhibition galleries that tell the story of African and African American labor, resistance, and ingenuity that literally built America and shaped much of the modern world. The Museum is home to 12 permanent exhibitions and one 3,000 square foot Special Exhibitions Gallery that rotates between two to three temporary exhibitions annually. In addition, an ongoing series of digital exhibitions will be published via the Google Arts & Culture platform.

A Tide Tribute pool features an engraved cement bottom, inspired by the infamous Brooks diagrams which illustrate how Africans were shackled and crammed into the holds of the slave ships. The rising and falling of the tides themselves are an emblem of the suppression and ultimate victory of the displaced Diaspora. The Museum’s Center for Family History offers an opportunity for visitors to investigate their ancestry, creating a complex tapestry of loss, pain, trauma, joy and triumph.

The triangular logo says it all. In addition to echoing African and Diaspora arts of many kinds, the sharp line points upward, ascending without hesitation or apology. As seniors, please take note of many planned giving opportunities, including making a gift in your will, a gift of stock, an IRA charitable rollover, and something called “non-probate assets” where you can name IAAM as a beneficiary using this tool: 

Free Will Regarding beneficiary designations, having a valid will in place isn’t enough. Assets you pass on outside of your will are called non-probate assets. They include IRAs. 401(k)s, pensions, life insurance policies, and certain bank and brokerage accounts. If beneficiaries are properly set for these non-probate assets, ownership can transfer faster than your assets that must go through probate.

Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day, the IAAM most certainly warrants a visit to Charleston. South Carolina residents will enjoy a discount on tickets until the end of 2023. Seniors 62+ enjoy a discounted ticket price of $9.95 (standard adult admission is $19.95), military personnel (with ID) enjoy a special discount, SNAP/EBT holders are welcomed with a greater discount, and kids under the age of 6 are admitted for free.


  • To prepare for your visit, reserve your room at Courtyard by Marriott, Courtyard Charleston Historic District, 125 Calhoun Street, 843-805-7900. It’s the only full-service Black-owned hotel in Charleston, owned by BET cofounder Robert Johnson.
  • When you visit Charleston, you’ll experience the beauty of indigenous “low-country” Gullah-Geechee culture which expresses itself in many ways around the region. Check out Gullah Tours owned and operated by local man Alphonso Brown, who also happens to be a member and organist/choirmaster of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, and the author of A Gullah Guide to Charleston.  Learn even more with Gullah Geechee walking tour with guide Godfrey Gullah Jac who calls his hometown “the Holy City,” and check out Godfrey’s fascinating book and DVD. He calls his ancestors  “…the mysterious people descending from way across da water.”  Check out “the other Charleston” with Franklin D. Williams, co-owner and head guide of Frankly Charleston. This Black-owned and operated tour provides eye-opening insights that reach a whole lot deeper than the usual tourist experience.
  • Food is just one of about a hundred great reasons to visit Charleston, for seafood rice and okra soup that touch the soul and well as warm the belly. My Three Sons is a Black-owned eatery located at 5237 Dorchester Road. Local entrepreneur Antwan Smalls, his mother Lorraine Smalls, and friend Alice Warren opened their place in 2015, so you know you’ll be feeling like family beginning with the first savory bite.
  • And while you’re there, indulge in the local specialty called a Charleston Chewies, a brownie-like confection made with–what else?– brown sugar, along with chicken-and-waffles cupcakes, all made with love from scratch daily using Auntie Landa’s family recipe at Daddy’s Girls Bakery at 2021 Reynolds Avenue, Suite 102-B.
  • Once your sweet tooth is satisfied, check out Charleston’s Gallery row for original fine art, sculpture, crafts and handmade jewelry, notably Meisha Johnson’s Neema Fine Art Gallery. Be prepared: this part of the country is filled with ironies. Case in point: Neema Fine Art Gallery, located at 3 Broad Street, Suite 100, is housed in a building that once printed Confederate money. Well, well, “Neema” means favor and grace in Swahili, so the tables have indeed turned.
  • And shake a tail-feather over to The Tiny Tassel, a colorful boutique owned by Mimi Stripli, for Miss Mimi’s signature tassel earrings, gifts, cards, Charleston-inspired candles, and handmade clothing sewn by Mimi’s mother. This cool li’l boutique (and oh, by the way, the earring selection is BOMB) supports Black and Asian women artisans. Located at 46 Spring Street, Unit B.


International African American Museum
14 Wharfside Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Become a Member of the International African American Museum: Membership

  1. Carolyn Lewis says:

    This is a place I would definitely put on my “fill my bucket 🪣 list.

  2. Betty LaMarr says:

    Great article highlighting the IAAM Museum. Last time I was in Charleston, I met some of the curators who were planning the Museum. Now I am motivated to return to see it.

    • Aingeel Talley says:

      Oh Betty that is wonderful to hear! I am sure you are delighted to know it’s completed. Thanks for sharing.

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