Old Slave Mart Museum
Slave auctions became a big business in the South after 1808, when the United States banned importation of slaves, thus increasing both price and demand. The auctions, with slaves forced to stand on display on long tables, generally took place in public buildings where everyone could watch the wrenching spectacle of families being torn apart and lives ruined.
But in the 1850s, public auctions in Charleston were put to a stop when city leaders discovered that visitors from European nations—all of which had banned slavery outright years before—were horrified at the practice. So the slave trade was moved indoors to “marts” near the Cooper River waterfront where the sales could be conducted out of the public eye.
The last remaining such structure is the Old Slave Mart Museum (6 Chalmers St., 843/958-6467, www.charlestoncity.info, Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., $7 adults, $5 children, 5 and under free). Built in 1859, and originally known as Ryan’s Mart after the builder, it was only in service a short time before the outbreak of the Civil War. The last auction was held in November 1863.
After the war, the Slave Mart became a tenement, and then in 1938 an African American history museum. The city of Charleston acquired the building in the 1980s and reopened it as a museum in late 2007.
There are two main areas: the orientation area, where visitors learn about the transatlantic slave trade and the architectural history of the building itself; and the main exhibit area, where visitors can see documents, tools, and displays re-creating what happened inside during this sordid chapter in local history and celebrating the resilience of the area’s African American community.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition