The International African-American Museum is set to open its doors next year but several members of a South Carolina community have their doubts about the highly anticipated building.
Dozens of protesters gathered in Charleston on Monday to voice concerns with the museum and how it will tell the history of Black folks in America, local station WCSC reported. Concerned citizens fear that the museum will focus on the history of Black Americans as an enslaved people, rather than highlight their other contributions to society.
For them, Black history started long before enslaved Africans were brought to the U.S. — and they want the museum to reflect that.
“This museum insists on a chronology that begins at the point of African American enslavement when there are thousands of years distinguished African and African American history before that time. And that’s why we object to it,” said Dr. Wilmot Fraser, with the group Citizens Want Excellence.
“It tells a partial, but not nearly the whole truth,” Fraser added. “We can’t have an institution that continues to perpetuate the lie that the most important thing about African-Americans is their enslavement. That’s simply not true.”
The museum, located at Gadsden’s Wharf in downtown Charleston where nearly half of all enslaved Africans brought to America first set foot on U.S. soil, will feature full body outlines of the enslaved, interactive exhibits and a genealogical research center aimed at helping patrons discover their roots.
In March, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gifted the museum with a $2 million donation to help launch its Center for Family History. The museum touts the forthcoming center as “a one of a kind, unprecedented” research hub with special focus on African-American genealogy that is set to feature troves of archival material and historical records.
“The museum will not only educate its patrons on the important contributions of Africans who came through Gadsden’s Wharf and Charleston, but it also will help all who visit to discover and connect with ancestors whose stories previously may not have been known,” said Elder David Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, who presented the donation.
Developers are set to break ground on construction later this year.
Fraser said it’s not that he doesn’t want a museum, but wants to make sure that it’s representative of the “whole truth.”
“We’ve made tremendous contributions to this community especially… The Gullah people of the sea islands and coastal plains have made tremendous contributions to human civilization,” he said at Monday’s rally. “And that has to be considered in anything that’s built.”
According to The Post and Courier, the Charleston City Council is set to vote on $60.2 million worth of building contracts for the museum at their next meeting Tuesday. Members with Citizens Want Excellence said they plan on attending the meeting to make their voices heard in hopes that the contract will be deferred.
The group made several demands, including calls for:
- A new decision-making process that includes input from local “descendant communities” and their supporters.
- A redesign of the museum mbuilding to “reflect specific elements of African American culture.”
- A commitment to an overall narrative “that neither trivializes or minimizes the African culture” and highlights “the full extent of the suffering” of Africans and present-day African-Americans, the newspaper reported.
“Unless we stop that building before it begins, then they will have solidified the wrong story,” Fraser added.
Watch more in the video below.