African American History Points of Interest in Charleston, South Carolina

Major Sites

Aiken Rhett House

48 Elizabeth St, Charleston, SC 29403

The Aiken-Rhett House is nationally significant as one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in the nation. Vastly expanded by Governor and Mrs. William Aiken, Jr. in the 1830s and again in the 1850s, the house and its outbuildings include a kitchen, the original slave quarters, carriage block and back lot. The Aiken-Rhett slave quarters – with their original paint, floors and fixtures – survive virtually untouched since the 1850s, allowing visitors the unique chance to better comprehend the every-day realities of the enslaved Africans who lived on-site, maintained the household and catered to the needs of the Aiken family and their guests.

Avery Research Institute for African American History

125 Bull St.

Founded in 1865, the Avery Normal Institute was the first accredited secondary school for African Americans in Charleston. In 1978 the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture was established to save and renovate the original Avery school building at 125 Bull Street as a repository of African American history and culture.

Cabbage Row

83-85 Church St.

The section of Church St. was the inspiration for "Catfish Row"; in the Dubose Heyward story "Porgy". This story later became the basis for George Gershwin opera "Porgy and Bess", a fictionalized glimpse of black life in Charleston during the 1920s. The character "Porgy" was based on an actual Charlestonian, Samuel Smalls.

Catfish Row

89-91 Church St.

Catfish Row (originally called cabbage row) served as the inspirational setting of George Gershwin’s opera, “Porgy & Bess”.

Denmark Vesey House

56 Bull St.

Born into slavery in the Virgin Islands, Vesey purchased his freedom from his Charleston slave holder and settled into life as a carpenter on Bull Street. In 1821 Vesey's home was the meeting place to organize what is considered the most extensive black insurrection in American history, involving thousands of free and enslaved blacks in the Charleston area. Set for July 12, 1822, word of the plot leaked out and Vesey and 36 others were hanged for their roles. The house is a National Historic Landmark.

Dubose Heyward House

76-78 Church St.

The historical significance of the DuBose Heyward House rests primarily on his novel, Porgy, which inspired the famed folk opera Porgy and Bess. In this novel, Heyward chose for his setting the African American community of Charleston, and for his protagonist a crippled beggar whose struggle he treated with sensitivity and insight. The result was a dramatic story which has attained the status of a national legend. Heyward lived in the house from approximately 1919 to 1924. He began as a poet. In fact he was a co-founder of the Poetry Society of South Carolina in 1920. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 11, 1971

Mother Emanuel AME Church

110 Calhoun St.

The original congregation was formed in 1791 by free blacks and slaves under the name of the Free African Society. The congregation joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1818 and changed its name to the Bethel Circuit. The name Bethel was changed to Emanuel by the Reverend Richard Cain in 1872. The present building was constructed in 1891.

Old Slave Mart Museum

6 Chalmers St.

The Old Slave Mart Museum has operated sporadically since 1938. The Old Slave Mart Museum is the first African-American Museum. The Old Slave Mart was built in 1859 and is considered the last surviving slave auction gallery in South Carolina. It was used briefly before the Civil War ended all slavery in the South.

Minor Sites

Blake-Grimke House

321 East Bay St.

Childhood home of Sarah & Angelina Grimke, two sisters who were well-known abolitionists from Charleston. The two sisters travelled throughout the country, relating their experiences with slavery on their father’s plantation. Their efforts were very effective in the growth of the abolitionist movement.

Centenary Methodist Church

60 Wentworth St.

Built in 1841 & sold to the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1866, this congregation has included many of Charleston’s most noted civil rights leaders, including Septima Clark.

Central Baptist Church

26 Radcliffe St.

Central Baptist Church is thought to be one of the first black churches founded and built solely by African Americans in Charleston. The congregation was founded in 1891 by members of the Morris Street Baptist Church, which lead the way in the formation of a Negro Baptist Church association in 1867 and a statewide organization in 1876.

Harleston Boags Funeral Home

121 Calhoun St.

During its formation, the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, had held regular meetings here. The meetings included notable civil rights figures such as: W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson & Mary McLeod Bethune.

Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church

51 Bull St.

The congregation was founded in 1875 from members leaving the Protestant Episcopal Church & forming the Reformed Episcopal Church. The present structure was built in 1880 in three weeks for the cost of $1,000. The cornerstone was laid by the Right Reverend Peter Fayssoux Stevens who was the first Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church.

John O’Mara House

82 Queen St.

This was the home of prominent African American attorney Jonathan Jasper Wright. A native of Pennsylvania, he was sent to Charleston by the American Missionary Association to help freedmen with the transition from slavery. He was also the only African American member of the S.C. State Supreme Court during Reconstruction. The house is now the location of the restaurant 82 Queen.

Morris Brown AME

13 Morris St.

The Church is named for Morris Brown, the pastor of the first AME congregation established in Charleston in 1818. The congregation came into being because of the rapid growth of Emanuel AME Church, the first church re-established in Charleston following the Civil War by Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne. The Reverend Richard Harvey Cain, who was pastor of Emanuel, purchased the property where the church now stands at 13 Morris Street from a Lutheran Congregation in 1867 and became the first pastor of the new congregation.

Morris Brown House

94 Smith St.

This was the home of Morris Brown, the pastor of the first AME congregation established in Charleston in 1818. He lived here until 1822 when he was suspected in collaborating with the Denmark Vesey slave revolt plot. The authorities’ suspicions were never proven but he moved to Pennsylvania & eventually became an AME Bishop.

Wharf by the Capt. James Missroom House

40 East Bay St.

The wharf in front of this home was the location which Robert Smalls, a 23-year old slave, commandeered a ship & broke thru the Southern lines to reach the Union blockade. He went on to have a long & successful career in public service.

Coming Soon

The International African American Museum

Coming in 2020 on one of the most important sites in American history, the place where more enslaved African captives arrived in the U.S. and were sold than any other location, the IAAM will present the largely under told experiences and contributions of Americans of African descent.