by Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (S.C.-06)
In 2019, my daughter Jennifer and I took part in a Congressional Delegation to Ghana that included my good friend, the late Congressman John Lewis. Our visit was to commemorate the 400 years since Blacks were forcibly taken from the continent of Africa and enslaved in America. During that visit, Jennifer and I stood silently in the ‘door of no return’ holding hands. I never asked her about her thoughts, and she did not ask me about mine. Last Saturday, she and her husband joined me at the dedication of the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston. It is fitting that IAAM stands on the site of Gadsden’s Wharf, where nearly half of all enslaved Africans brought to this continent arrived.
When I was asked by then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley 23 years ago to chair the steering committee to develop his vision of establishing such a museum in Charleston, I thought of the countless slaves that were stolen from their homeland, stripped of their identities, and brought to this strange land in shackles. But I also thought of the African Americans who rose above the circumstances of their ancestors and their countless descendants eager to honor their memories. I said during my dedication remarks that IAAM tells the story of perseverance through the middle passage, resistance to enslavement, triumphs over Jim Crow, and significant contributions to the greatness of this country.
In the early days of our efforts, there was significant debate about the focus of the museum. But I knew we had to do justice to all 400 years of the Black experience in America. On the day we broke ground on IAAM, another good friend, Congressman Elijah Cummings, was being funeralized in Baltimore, Maryland. Elijah was the great-great-grandson of Scippio Rhame, who, until he was freed in 1868, worked the same land as Elijah’s parents, who were sharecroppers.