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Here’s The African-American Museum That Charleston, And America, Need

Mar 29, 2018

Charleston, S.C. — The unmarked property, beside a big, bland postwar apartment building, is now an empty grass lot and de facto park. Cabin cruisers gently bob at a pier.

In this part of Charleston, just north of the historic, postcard district, industry has increasingly been giving way to boxy condominium developments with names like The Gadsden, after this city’s Revolutionary War-era patriot, merchant, and sometime slave trader, Christopher Gadsden.

Justice delayed, as the saying goes.

If it’s to be served, that empty plot, still waiting on private donations and $11 million in state funding, will be occupied by a subdued, modernist, 47,000-square-foot pavilion raised above the ground on thick columns clad in precast oyster-shell tabby.

It will house the International African American Museum.

A graceful project, long discussed and years overdue, the museum has brought together two very different talents, the veteran architect Harry Cobb, from Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and Walter Hood, the landscape designer from Oakland, Calif.

Its louvered windows facing the waterfront will direct views past Fort Sumter toward the Atlantic Ocean — and Africa. In and around the plaza created below the lofted building, a memorial garden, planted with native grasses, will lead toward a shallow tidal pool whose stone floor is inscribed with the shapes of bodies crammed together, as slaves were, in the bowels of ships that landed here.

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