From July 14-16, Levine Museum took twelve students to Charleston, South Carolina, to complement their week-long intensive on the African Diaspora and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Throughout the trip, students were asked to reflect upon the histories that they learned and connect them to their own lived experiences as well as think critically about current social issues.
While Charleston is often associated with Southern hospitality and its tourism, at one point this city was the largest slave port in the United States. Students visited historical sites such as the Old Slave Mart Museum and Magnolia Plantation’s slave cabins where they were exposed to the idea of the African Diaspora and the spread of African culture in the Americas. As students embraced a side of history that is not often taught in schools, they were forced to explore their own identities and personally connect to the stories shared with them.
Students were also pushed to challenge traditional history and how it has been told. For example, many tour guides compared Sullivan’s Island to Ellis Island, since 40% of the enslaved people brought to the U.S. were first brought to Sullivan’s Island. While Sullivan’s Island was a harbor for the African Diaspora, students recognized the discrepancy in comparing voluntary migration to the involuntary movement of a people.
Additionally, while on Sullivan’s Island, students visited Fort Moultrie, which neighbored the “pest houses” –places of quarantine where the enslaved were first brought to make sure they were free from communicable diseases. At Fort Moultrie, students recognized the irony in the juxtaposition of a pest house and a church.
Many students were surprised at how much of our culture today originates from the African slave trade, yet is not credited. Students were able to explore music, dance, food, language and local history in both Charleston, as they were in Charlotte, in order to get a better understanding of the impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Participants met with local community members who shared their talents, skills and knowledge to help students better understand the African influence on the Carolinas today.
As participant Victoria Banks stated, “Africa is a book no one knows we’re reading.”
We hope all of the students will continue to recognize and credit untold histories and compel others to connect their own identities to the world around them.
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Did you know Charleston was the largest slave port in the United States? Have you visited any of these historical places?