This is in response to the question, “What should be inside the International African American Museum?”
The first question is who the museum will serve. It is certainly not the African-American community of Charleston or South Carolina.
To quote Rabbi Yossi Refson, at the opening of the Holocaust Memorial, “There are cultures that forget their past, and there are cultures that are held captive by their past.”
We as African-American citizens of Charleston are neither. However, our history should be our story and the place should reflect our success, not just the bitter story of how and why Gadsden’s Wharf was built.
We should not be held captive this time by former Mayor Joe Riley. He said that we can stand on the wharf and look over the water to Africa. When I look into the water, I see the bodies of my dead brothers and sister who were thrown into that Cooper River, causing citizens of Charleston to stop eating fish caught from that river.
As a descendant of the Gadsden plantation, I can see the wharf and remember the pain and death of my people held there to increase the slave owners’ profits.
No, we have not forgotten, but, like slaves, we are still not included in determining our destiny. We should not have to leave it up to the former mayor to tell us how our history should be told. We have “bitter fruit,” but we also have a rich heritage and history in the making of Charleston that must be told in this setting in this building.
This should be a place that we want to bring our families to tell them about our history, as well as a major tourist attraction. Riley wants to offer a “family history center” that will collect our DNA, but we will have no control over how it will be managed.
Our ancestry is no longer for sale. We can explore our roots.
This is a design that benefits the tourists visiting Charleston. It will be another opportunity for others to make money off of our backs and our history.
Joan Martin Bryan
Marsh Creek Drive