International African American Museum dedicated Saturday

Published: Jun. 24, 2023 at 9:31 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 25, 2023 at 1:45 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The International African American Museum was privately dedicated in downtown Charleston.

The dedication began at 10 a.m. Saturday with a watch party in Marion Square and a celebration to follow also taking place. The watch party was presented by Boeing and also featured a live simulcast of the dedication.

The dedication was a celebration of African American culture and history as the building prepares to fully open to the public.

MORE: Walkthrough gives preview of International African American Museum exhibits

The celebration began with a variety of musical performances before former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama appeared via video message. In the message, they shared their excitement for the opening.

“After 20 long years of planning, this museum will paint a bigger, broader, more complex picture of where we’ve come from and who we are as a nation today,” Michelle Obama said. “[We are] so thrilled to be able to celebrate with you and to help open an institution that not only tells the story of American slave trade but also honors the countless contributions African Americans have long made to our nation’s history.”

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley who were instrumental in bringing the museum to life.

Riley said the idea for the museum came after reading Edward Ball’s ‘Slaves in the Family,’ who came to Charleston to explore his family’s slave-owning past.

“When I finished, I vowed we must build this museum in Charleston,” Riley said. “It was long past time that we told our history, our country’s history. Truth sets us free – free to understand, free to respect and free to appreciate the whole spectrum of our shared history.”

The museum stands on the grounds of Gadsden’s Wharf. An estimated 100,000 enslaved Africans were brought to America and arrived at the wharf.

“We are here today at this hallowed site to reclaim a piece of the site of Gadsden’s Wharf and reimagine it as a space to tell one of the greatest stories of human struggle and triumph of all time,” IAAM President and CEO Dr. Tonya Matthews said. “We are here to place that African American story in its full context from 300 BCE to 2023 and counting.”

Former President Obama called the museum “powerful” in his video message.

“It’s one every American can learn something from, and that’s why we’re so proud to help you celebrate today,” Obama said. “Because this museum isn’t just meaningful for people in Charleston. It’s an important part of our collective history.”

Clyburn admitted he was reserved when talks to build the museum first started over 20 years ago. Now, he said the museum will tell several important stories.

“Perseverance through the middle passage, resistance to enslavement, triumphs over Jim Crow and significant contributions to the greatness of this country,” Clyburn said.

The IAAM officially opens to the public on Tuesday.