In Charleston Harbor, where the initiating shots of the Civil War were fired — Fort Sumter is distantly visible — I’m on the site of a former shipping pier known as Gadsden’s Wharf. Here, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, ships carrying tens of thousands of enslaved Africans deposited their human cargo, a population that would, through unthinkable adversity and creative perseverance, utterly transform what “America” meant, and means.
On this spot now, looking a bit like a ship itself, stands the eagerly awaited and long-delayed new International African American Museum. After an almost quarter-century journey hampered by political squalls, economic doldrums, sometimes mutinous crews, and last-minute fogs, this cultural vessel has securely, and handsomely, come to berth here, opening to the public on Tuesday.
The new museum is very much what this place is about: the original forced infusion of Black cultural energy into America, and the consequences of that for the present. It’s the first major new museum of African American history in the country to bring the whole Afro-Atlantic world, including Africa itself, fully into the picture.