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North and South Carolina African American History Sites

The life and contribution of the coastal Carolinas’ African American population is a testament to resilience, resourcefulness, and authentic culture. Here are the key sights in the region: You can visit all of these North and South Carolina African American history sites on a five- or six-day road trip with stays in Wilmington, Charleston, and Beaufort, South Carolina, or combine them with other sights when you’re headed to just one area.

front entryway of Penn Center in South Carolina
The Penn Center was an important planning site for Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo © Jim Morekis.

Wilmington

  • Bellamy Mansion: This historic mansion features extensive interpretive programming on African American history, as well as one of the few intact slave quarters in the United States.
  • Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum: At this nationally renowned museum, you’ll find artwork of notable regional African American artists.

Georgetown

  • Rice Museum: This museum has several exhibits on the contributions of African Americans in building the rice culture of the Lowcountry and the way they lived.

Charleston

  • Old Slave Mart Museum: This structure that once held an indoor slave market today re-creates what happened during those actions and traces the history of the slave trade.
  • Old City Market: On land donated to the city with the stipulation that no slaves were ever to be sold here, the City Market was once and still is a place for African American vendors to ply their wares.
  • Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture: Those of an academic bent can visit this research center at the College of Charleston and view exhibits that sample from its permanent archives. While on this gorgeous campus, don’t miss a visit to the Cistern area in front of historic Randolph Hall, where Barack Obama spoke before a large crowd during the 2008 presidential campaign.
  • Philip Simmons Garden: View the wrought-iron art of Charleston’s most beloved artisan in the garden of St. John’s Reformed Episcopal Church.
  • Drayton Hall Plantation: At this authentically preserved plantation building in West Ashley, you can take a tour and visit the old African American cemetery on the grounds.
  • Boone Hall Plantation: Visit this former cotton plantation and still-active agriculture facility to see the excellent restored slave quarters and the well-done interpretive exhibits. While on Mount Pleasant don’t miss the sweetgrass basket-maker stands all along Highway 17.

Beaufort, South Carolina

  • Robert Smalls House: View the home of the African American Civil War hero Robert Smalls, who later served in Congress.
  • Tabernacle Baptist Church: Robert Smalls attended this church, which today hosts a memorial sculpture of him on the grounds.
  • Beaufort National Cemetery: This burial ground contains a memorial to African American Civil War troops.

The Lowcountry

  • Penn Center: Located on St. Helena Island, this is a key research and cultural site in the study of the Gullah culture and people.
  • Daufuskie Island: The Historic District here is where Pat Conroy taught African American children at the still-standing Mary Field School.
  • Tuskegee Airmen Memorial: Located inland in Walterboro, this monument is dedicated to the African American fighter pilots who trained here during World War II.
  • Union Cemetery: This small but evocative cemetery on Hilton Head Island serves as the final resting ground of several soldiers of the Civil War Colored Infantry.

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