Charleston's waterfront will soon have a new historic attraction that will address lives, struggles-- and enslavement-- that are often ignored or downplayed.
Bernard Powers, associate professor of history, says the goal of Charleston's proposed International African American Museum is to promote a greater understanding of the worldly factors that shape the African American culture of the past, present and future. Expected to be open by 2007, the museum will be more than just a historical timeline. It will explore all factors of life, including art, literature, economics and biology, that filtered together to create a new African culture in America, according to Powers, a member of the board planning the new museum.
Powers explains that Charleston was an important factor in the lives of African Americans dating back to the early days of slavery. “It has been estimated that during the high point of the Atlantic slave trade about 40 percent of all of the people brought to North America came through the port of Charleston," Powers says.
Charleston was a cultural crossroad for many nationalities, including African Americans. He describes Charleston as the “hub of the wheel with the spokes of different cultures radiating from it.”
Even though history and museums play such a large part in the environment of Charleston, the integral role of African Americans has been somewhat overlooked, Powers says.
The February 12, 2004 issue of Black Issues in Higher Education featured an article by Kendra Hamilton called “Telling the Untold Story.” She discussed the emergence of African American museums around the country and quoted Powers and Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley. After a trip to the Afro-Brazilian Museum in Salvador, Bahia, Riley realized that Charleston was not adequately representing the African American culture. “In fact, as I looked at the whole story of African peoples’ experiences for almost 200 years coming to Charleston, living in the city and moving out from our part of the country, I realized there was a huge story that had been untold and that Charleston had not only an opportunity but a responsibility to help tell that story,” Riley said in the article.
Powers is one of 10 members on the consultant board, which is designed to formulate the museum’s potential public reach, integration into the community, and final outcome. The museum's planning board includes other College of Charleston faculty members John Rashford and Dale Rosengarten.
Powers, who has been at the College of Charleston for 12 years, is also director of the history department's graduate program. He has published numerous works about African American social and cultural evolution, including his book "Black Charlestonians, A Social History 1822-1885."
For more information on Dr. Bernard Powers, please visit: http://www.cofc.edu/~history/faculty_bio/powers.htm
The museum's proposed site is at the corner of Calhoun and Concord Streets, across from Liberty Square near the South Carolina Aquarium. Further information about Charleston’s proposed African American Museum may be found at http://www.centuryfive.net, or contact Carolee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org,sc.us or (843) 724-3776.
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