Opinion At ‘ground zero’ for slavery, a new museum helps rewrite history
Within the museum, galleries tell the story of the African diaspora. The curators treat Charleston as the funnel of Black culture that the city in fact was, showing how different peoples from West Africa were forced onto plantations, the steamy prison camps of the Southern colonies, how distinct cultures were amalgamated into a general Blackness and how Black life was carried north and west into every corner of the United States. About one-quarter of the gallery space is focused on the slavery trade, while another quarter tells stories about plantation life. Then it is upward and outward into all things Black and American — church life, Black food invention, Black music, Blackness in design. The diaspora becomes granular with stories of Buffalo Soldiers, rural midwifery, Pullman porters, the Mardi Gras Indians, the Black women’s club movement and lesser-known campaigners for civil rights. For reasons that are easy to infer, the museum possesses few artifacts. It uses photography, sculptural models, video interviews, CGI, audio recordings and archival footage to tell stories that include scores of subplots across a dozen generations. And there is a Center for Family History, aimed at helping visitors reconnect with their ancestors and construct a personal family narrative.