A museum 2,300 years in the making

Ford’s ancestors were enslaved on Hilton Head Island, about 150km south of Charleston. Over the years, her family experienced Jim Crow laws (state and local statutes that enforced racial segregation in the American South after the end of the Civil War) and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 

“You can never forget slavery or Jim Crow,” Ford said, “but [the museum] can bring people together on a higher level, a moral level.” She hopes visitors will come from all over the world “to see what was”. 

And, as Mathews noted, to see what else could be. “The museum is a launching pad for folks’ courageous curiosity,” the museum’s CEO said. “I’m a fan of raised eyebrows. I don’t want people to visit and think they’ve completed their black history journey in a single museum visit. What success looks like is people thinking, ‘there’s a lot I don’t know, so I’m going to grab a book and learn more’.” 

Rediscovering America is a BBC Travel series that tells the inspiring stories of forgotten, overlooked or misunderstood aspects of the US, flipping the script on familiar history, cultures and communities. 


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