Though some may pass by Mosquito Beach without a second thought, the strip of marshland on James Island ― once one of the only waterfront spots in the area where black families were welcome ― could become a destination.
That’s something that Michael Allen, a retiree of the National Park Service and a spokesperson for the sixth annual African-American Tourism Conference, hopes people in the visitor industry can embrace.
“Today people may drive past it on their way to Folly Beach and not know,” Allen said. “But these enclaves, these sanctuary areas ― they gave African Americans a peaceful place to gather in the middle of the Jim Crow experience.”
The conference will be held Saturday at the College of Charleston’s Beatty Center. Its purpose is to provide information for people already in the tourism sector about preserving and promoting African-American heritage and will also give guidance to those interested in breaking into the industry.
Much of the historic appeal of the Charleston area is derived from the cultural legacy of African-Americans, Allen said. But the question often raised is whether or not African-Americans are engaged in the industry and the process of sharing that heritage with visitors.
“Unfortunately, it’s not always the case,” Allen said.
Sessions will also focus on tourism infrastructure, both in the form of organizations — representatives from the Gullah Geechee Culture Heritage Corridor, the S.C. African-American Heritage Commission and the Georgia African-American Historic Preservation Network will attend, Allen said — and actual visitor sites.
This conference will focus discussion on four particular in-progress destinations: the International African American Museum in Charleston, Columbia SC 63 in Columbia and Mosquito Beach and the equalization schools on James Island.
Construction on the International African American Museum, which will will be built near the city’s Maritime Center at the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf, is expected to start next year. The project is almost two decades in the making, but organizers received a boost when, last month, they reached — and, soon after, exceeded — their goal of raising $75 million to build the museum.
As part of a collaboration with seven other cities, Columbia SC 63 formed in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 1963, the height of the Civil Rights Movement. But the initiative has continued, with the city offering events like Civil Rights walking tours throughout this year.
The equalization schools are part of a group of over 700 schools built by the state of South Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s to avoid desegregating its education system.
Since the emergence in the last few years of a black travel movement and the advent of popular black travel groups, visitor industry officials are finally taking note of the potential of reaching out to this market, said Kwadjo Campbell, head organizer for the conference.
That’s also helped to drive museums and attractions nationwide to emphasize the civil rights story. In January, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, a network of 110 sites across 14 states, was launched.
An app dedicated to African-American history in South Carolina debuted here in August, featuring 300 different sites of historical significance throughout the state.
“There are tremendous opportunities within this market,” Campbell said, "and we want people to know about it."