It’s been a long time coming—23 years, to be exact. It took that long to muster the support and funding required to create the International African American Museum. It was in 2000 that former Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., voiced a need for the museum in his State of the City address. “The museum is an amalgamation of many hopes and dreams,” says Malika Pryor Martin, the chief learning and engagement officer at IAAM, “but Mayor Riley was the champion in chief.” Today, one look tells you it was well worth the wait.
Raised 13 feet above the ground on 18 cylindrical pillars, the 46,500-square-foot building rises above Gadsden’s Wharf, the port of arrival for 45 percent of the enslaved Africans that were brought to America. Between 1710 and 1808, Charleston received an estimated 809 slave ships and 152,000 enslaved African captives. Their story begins on the wharf at the Tide Tribute, which honors the untold numbers of African Americans who did not survive the cruel two-month-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Washed by the rising and falling tides, tabby figures are positioned in relief as they might have been in the belly of the ships that transported them to these shores.