Forty percent of all Africans — men, women and children — destined for slavery in America were said to have been brought on ships to Gadsden Wharf at Calhoun and Concord streets downtown.
They were stored, more than 8,000 at a time, according to historians, in warehouses along East Bay Street as they waited to be sold into slavery in various parts of the South.
Many died along the way and were dumped into the Cooper River; not enough burial space. As such, one of the largest wharfs in North America, Gadsden has become a memorial site and a fitting place for the proposed $50 million International African American Museum.
A trace of heritage “It's a heritage site because 80 percent of all African-Americans can find one ancestor who came through the port of Charleston”, said John Fleming, museum director.
Arrival Square, as the area will be called, will be a place of remembrance where millions of blacks can trace their heritage, and visitors can learn about African culture and how it contributed to American culture.
Visitors can learn about life in West Africa before the arrival and how Africans brought to the Lowcountry their rice production skills, which led to a rich state and local economy.
Fleming said the cultures are so intertwined, there can be no American culture without African culture.
The museum will look at 400 years of U.S. history, including the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. It will explore how blacks changed U.S. culture through the economy, road and building construction, song, dance, food and language.
No amount too small Mayor Joe Riley, who heads the museum board, said the 44,000-square-foot building will have permanent and rotating exhibits and will be of national significance.
Because so much of African-American history has gone largely untouched, the museum will be similar to an archaeological body of work unearthing history, Riley said.
The site will be a community gathering place for special events and an avenue for people to connect with other local places, such as Avery Institute, to help tell the story of the African-American contribution.
Fleming and Riley envision people coming from all over the world to visit the museum, now gearing up for its capital campaign.
So far, $2.5 million has been raised for research, planning and design, including the most recent $248,000 Boeing donation. In July, the museum's website will go online, and people can learn more about the project and how they can donate.
Riley's committee will put together the fundraising plan, targeting public and private funds, including corporations, foundations, churches and individuals. No amount is too small. A $1 contribution will be part of the museum's history, Riley said. The target date for completion is 2017.
Design and architectural firms from Ohio, New Mexico and New York are hard at work. A dozen scholars have worked on the museum's concept and have produced 600 pages of research. A program manager will be hired to work with Riley and the campaign committee.
Meanwhile, if you can spare $1, I know a good cause.
Reach City Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555.