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International African American Museum offers free admission and programming in honor of Emancipation Day

Charleston, S.C. – The International African American Museum (IAAM) will offer complimentary admission on January 1, 2024, in commemoration of Emancipation Day. Watch Night and Emancipation Day activities and programs are set for December 31 and January 1 and will honor and celebrate the spirit of freedom, resilience, and the ongoing pursuit of equality embodied by these anniversaries.


Emancipation Day stands as a monumental day in American history, marking the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation and the liberation of countless African Americans from the bonds of slavery. To mark this historic occasion, the museum has partnered with sponsors to create a weekend of activities and programs including a daytime “Watch Night” event, IAAM’s participation in Charleston’s annual Emancipation Day parade, and free admission to the museum. The opportunity for community open access to the museum is made possible through the generous support of Boeing. The museum’s participation in the Emancipation Day programming is the inaugural 2024 program in the TD Bank Program Series. 


“We are thrilled to open our doors and welcome everyone to join us in commemorating both Emancipation Day and Freedom’s Eve. These commemorations symbolize not only the end of a tragic chapter in history, but also the resilience and triumph of the African American journey,” said Dr. Tonya Matthews, president and CEO of the International African American Museum. “We are grateful to our sponsors – Boeing and TD Bank – whose unwavering commitment to community impact and inclusive storytelling have made our participation in these celebrations both possible and also accessible to our community. IAAM is always excited to work with partners to amplify its mission with an open invitation to all to immerse themselves in the rich narratives, legacies, and cultural treasures of the untold stories of the African American journey,” she added.


The museum will be open with complimentary sponsored admission on January 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., while tickets last. Visitors planning to attend on January 1 are strongly encouraged to reserve timed ticket entry at the museum’s website, iaamuseum.org. Registration is required for some of the weekend’s programming and more information can be found on the IAAM website.


Schedule of Events


December 31, 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Freedom’s Eve “Watch Night” Program – the historic Morris Brown AME Church, together with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission will host a daytime Watch Night Service and Emancipation Proclamation celebration. Watch Night is a 160-year-old tradition, also known as “Freedom’s Eve,” as it serves to commemorate the date of January 1, 1863, when Gullah Geechee people in South Carolina and across the South began to emerge from bondage as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. No registration required. Join in person or watch live on the Morris Brown AME Facebook page. Reach out to aparson@gullahgeecheecorridor.org with questions.


January 1, 12:00 pm– 3:00 pm

Emancipation Day Parade & Celebration Charleston’s Emancipation Day Parade, recognized as the nation’s longest continuously running parade to commemorate the day, begins at Burke High School and ends at Gadsdenboro Park in front of the museum. IAAM will participate in the parade with a float and as part of the community gathering and reflections ceremony at the end of the parade. IAAM President and CEO Dr. Tonya Matthews will be one of the speakers. There will be entertainment, food trucks, and more. No registration required. 


January 1, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Onward From Freedom’s Eve – The International African American Museum, as part of the TD Bank Program Series, will celebrate the anniversary of the day, January 1, 1863, when enslaved people throughout the slave-holding states emerged from bondage with the Emancipation Proclamation. The new year, or “Freedom’s Eve,” as it is historically known to many, holds tremendous significance within the Gullah Geechee and broader African American community. Freedom’s Eve provides the opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon stories and sentiments of freedom. Featured will be a conversation with Sunn m’Cheaux, artist, activist, social commentator, and Gullah/Geechee Charleston, S.C., “binya” (native), who will explore how to continue to carry this legacy of freedom forward. Registration required; to learn more and register, click here.

The International African American Museum (IAAM) explores the history, culture, and impact of the African American journey on Charleston, the nation, and the world, shining light and sharing stories of the diverse journeys, origin, and achievements of descendants of the African Diaspora. Across eleven galleries and a memorial garden with art, objects, artifacts, and multi-media interaction, IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history. As a result, the museum will stand as one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as it evolves today. The mission of IAAM is to honor the untold stories of the African American journey at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf and beyond. For more information, please visit iaamuseum.org.

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