The International African American Museum (IAAM) officially opened to the public on Tuesday, June 27, after over 20 years of planning, welcoming guests and community members inside to learn the full story of the African American journey. Located at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf, IAAM’s nine distinct galleries demonstrate how enslaved and free Africans shaped economic, political, and cultural development throughout the nation and beyond, while offering an insider’s look at the close connections to the renowned culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
“After decades of planning and hard work, we were thrilled to officially open IAAM to the public earlier this week,” said Dr. Tonya Matthews, president and CEO of IAAM. “Thank you for waiting several centuries for this moment to honor the untold story of the African American people. We welcome everyone to visit us at IAAM — to simultaneously hold the sensations of trauma and joy that are woven together throughout our exhibitions and feel something that is akin to everything. Our stories, our history — they are seeds, and seeds sprout. They have been planted and germinating for hundreds of years, and now we till the soil.”
IAAM’s galleries include the Transatlantic Experience, the Atlantic Worlds Gallery, the South Carolina Connections Gallery, the Gullah Geechee Gallery, the American Journeys Gallery, the Carolina Gold Gallery, the African Roots Gallery, The Theater, and the Special Exhibitions Gallery. Currently, IAAM is hosting Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth., a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian that presents the history of a nation through the lens of significant and iconic African American men in a historical and cultural landscape. The Ford Motor Company Fund and local sponsor, Bank of America, made it possible to bring the exhibit to Charleston.
In addition to the galleries, visitors can also access the Center for Family History, a world-class genealogy and ancestry resource center, as well as the African Ancestors Memorial Garden, which reflects on the historic significance of Gadsden’s Wharf. IAAM is now open daily Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5pm, with the last reservation time at 4pm. The museum will be closed to visitors on Mondays, as well as Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. A timed ticket is required for entry. Tickets may be purchased at iaamuseum.org, or by phone at 843-872-5352. For more information on planning a visit, purchasing tickets, or becoming a member of the museum, please visit IAAM’s website.
“It was an honor to finally open the International African American Museum to the public. During a time where the idea of the African American experience being quintessential to the American experience is being challenged around the nation — what a fantastic moment for this Museum to be alive,” said Malika N. Pryor, chief learning and engagement officer of IAAM. “What we endeavor to do as visitors move through IAAM is to center the people who lived because they chose to. Our exhibitions are a curatorial prism, infracting light to create multiple colors that are engaging and dancing with the concepts of people, place, space and time — triangulating continental Africa, the United States and the greater Diaspora. What we look forward to our visitors doing is choosing, just as our ancestors chose, sometimes just one step, one foot in front of the other.”
IAAM’s public opening follows several days of reverent and celebratory community events. On Thursday, June 22, religious leaders and community members gathered together at the historic Morris Brown AME Church for a multi-faith celebration and service to kick off the opening weekend festivities.
On Saturday, June 24, IAAM celebrated its opening with a dedication ceremony, which took place on-site. Hosted by Dean Phylicia Rashad, the ceremony included performances by Amadou Kouyate, Cheick Hamala Diabaté and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and featured virtual and in-person remarks from former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, Queen Quet, U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn and former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, among others. Simultaneously, IAAM welcomed thousands of visitors and members of the community to the Grand Opening Community Celebration at Marion Square, to watch a live simulcast of the Museum’s dedication ceremony. Emceed by Charlamagne tha God and presented by Boeing, the watch celebration at Marion Square included live performances from the African American Songbook, local musicians and artists such as Candice Glover, Bebe Winans and Ranky Tanky, and refreshments from Black-owned food trucks.
The mission of IAAM is to honor the untold stories of the African American journey at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf and beyond. For more information, please visit iaamuseum.org or call 843-872-5352.