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11 Historic African American Sites to Visit in Charleston

11 Historic African American Sites to Visit in Charleston

We teamed up with Gullah Tours owner and operator Alphonso Brown, a lecturer on the Gullah language and Black History of Charleston, as well as author of A Gullah Guide to Charleston, to share 11 historic African American sites to visit in Charleston today. 

The Gullah culture presented some of Charleston’s first preservationists. Brought to America in the 1700s and 1800s by enslaved Africans, many retained a deep connection with the heritage of their homeland. Today, Gullah is a beautifully intact cultural identity woven deeply in the fabric of Charleston’s history. Scroll on to learn a bit about each site before you go, then click here to join Alphonso Brown on a Gullah Tour to dive deeper into the history, heritage and traditions of the Gullah culture.

  1. McLeod Plantation Historic Site

    This 37-acre Gullah-Geechee heritage site pays tribute to the enslaved Africans who lived on the plantation grounds from the 1800’s. McLeod has been carefully preserved in recognition of its historical and cultural significance and offers many opportunities to learn about the relationships between those who lived and worked on the plantation. Here, guests can tour dwellings built for enslaved families, view a display of antiques owned by former slave owners and trace the emergence of Gullah culture in the Lowcountry.

    McLeod Plantation Historic Site
  2. Philip Simmons’ House

    Many of Charleston’s historic homes are adorned with the wrought iron work of Philip Simmons, the legendary blacksmith who drew inspiration from his barrier island childhood and created long lasting works of art. Swing by 30 ½ Blake Street, a stop on Alphonso Brown’s Gullah Tours, to take a peek at where Simmons once worked and where his nephews still do today.

  3. Seabrook Brothers Hotel

    In 1915, George Seabrook and his brothers opened a hotel at 554 ½ King Street, where the Hyatt is now located.

  4. Mother Emanuel AME Church

    Located at 110 Calhoun Street, Mother Emanuel AME Church was founded in 1816 and is the oldest African Methodist Episopal Church in the Southern United States. Here you can visit the Emanuel 9 Memorial, which was constructed following the devastating murders of Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Celementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson on June 17, 2015.

    Mother Emanuel AME Church
  5. Mt. Zion AME Church

    Rev. Dr. William Heard was the third pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church, located at 5 Glebe Street. It was here that he invited Fredrick Douglas to speak on March 5, 1888. Emanuel AME Church purchased Mt. Zion AME Church in 1882. When the earthquake destroyed Emanuel AME, the old wooden pews were brought to Mt. Zion AME to aid in the seating of Emanuel members worshipping there until their building was rebuilt. The old wooden pews are still located in the balcony at Mt. Zion.

  6. Bethel United Methodist Church

    The only complete slave/free Black graveyard where visitors can read the writing on the stones is next to Bethel United Methodist Church, located at 57 Pitt Street.

  7. College of Charleston Library

    The graveyard of the Brown Fellowship Society was for light skinned Blacks only, or dark skinned Blacks who were financially “well-off.” The graveyard is located in the parking lots behind the College of Charleston Library. It was originally built over by the former Bishop England High School and is now a green space and parking lot.

  8. Charleston City Market

    Sweetgrass baskets are an indigenous art form brought over from Africa, and are one of the most easily recognizable Gullah traditions. Originally made to winnow rice on the plantations, the baskets have become sought after souvenirs and are even on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Charleston is the primary location where the craft is still practiced, and the Charleston City Market houses numerous talented artisans sewing these baskets today.

    Sweetgrass Basket
  9. Old City Jail

    The slave jail, known as the “Work House” was located to the east of the Old City Jail, which is located at 21 Magazine Street. It was there that Denmark Vesey, an insurrectionist, was kept before being hung. It was destroyed in the 1886 earthquake and the bricks were used to build the 1938 Mills Project.

    Old City Jail
  10. Cabbage Row

    At 89 – 91 Church Street, you will find a three-storied row of houses locally known as “Cabbage Row.” These houses are from the Revolutionary War era and were mostly inhabited by the families of freed slaves. African Americans living in these houses would sell cabbage from their window sills, hence the row’s name. “Cabbage Row” was the setting for Charleston and Church Street native Dubose Heyward’s 1925 novel “Porgy,” in which he changed the name to “Catfish Row” in order to reflect the fictional location by the sea. This novel was the basis for George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy & Bess.”

  11. Aiken-Rhett House

    The nation’s premier example of an urban plantation, this circa 1818 double house was erected by one of the state’s wealthiest citizens and encompasses nearly an entire city block. Pre-Civil War, the Aiken-Rhett House was maintained by highly skilled enslaved African Americans who worked hard to sustain the Aikens’ standards for living. Occupations included carriage drivers, cooks, gardeners and seamstresses to name a few. The back lot of the Aiken-Rhett House is where the enslaved lived, worked and ate their meals.

    Aiken-Rhett House

    For more, discover Alphonso Brown’s Guide to Gullah here.