Amongst the charm and beauty of Charleston, we couldn’t stop thinking about its darker past. Known as the Old Slave Mart, this building was renovated by the City of Charleston into a museum that interprets the history of this region’s role in the slave trade.
According to the Old Slave Mart website, more than one million American-born slaves were sold away from plantations in the upper South to work the rapidly expanding cotton and sugar plantations in the lower South. In Charleston, enslaved African Americans were customarily sold openly in public until a city ordinance in 1856 prohibited public sales that led to the opening of the Old Slave Mart and a number of other enclosed sales rooms, yards, or marts in the area. The Old Slave Mart is believed to be the last existing slave auction facility in South Carolina until its closure in 1863. A recent New York Times article states that an estimated that 40 to 60 percent of African-Americans can trace their roots here.
Learning all of this information while looking across the street at the building where this all happened was simply heartbreaking. We didn’t know what to say or do or feel — we were left frozen in place and found ourselves speechless yet full of every emotion of anger and an incredible sadness that makes your heart drop and nearly sick to your stomach.
We knew this was part of our country’s history, but this was the first time we experienced it face-to-face in such a direct manner. To say the least, it had a lasting impact on us that we continue to carry with us on this tour and beyond.