Black history in Charleston sits at the water’s edge. On the same spot where thousands of enslaved Africans took their first steps on South Carolina’s shore, a monument to their endurance and their descendants is under construction. The International African American Museum (IAAM), set to open in 2022, faces the Cooper River just over a mile from where it pours into the Atlantic Ocean.
The museum will stand in defiance of centuries of Black South Carolinians’ erasure from the historic record. But even as IAAM’s pillars are being poured, climate change threatens to uproot the people and heritage the museum represents. Those Black communities in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region are searching for ways to ensure their culture outlasts ever-strengthening storms and the economic losses that could follow in their wake.