Charleston has a wonderful creature they call Museum Mile. It is as the name implies: a one-mile section that contains a series of buildings filled with history as rich as the food on a Lowcountry plate. I'm a little embarrassed to admit we'd yet to step into one of these treasuries—the haint blue roof we prefer to stay under is generally the sky. But we abandoned that policy on our last visit to check out a place I learned about in 2004, but couldn't enter because it was closed to the public. It recently opened, so my husband and I drove south on Meeting Street, then traversed the uneven cobblestones on Chalmers to reach what was once a showcase of human flesh. No, not a closed strip joint. Charleston's Old Slave Mart.*
If you're like my husband, discomfort just crawled up your spine. Though I'm what my daughter calls whiter-than-bright-white-copy-paper, I'd passed that stage long ago while doing research for my first and, unfortunately, badly written novel—you have to start somewhere—about a young woman subjected to a life of forced labor and personal rejection by virtue of her birth. Part of the story takes place in Charleston, and one scene occurs in the Slave Mart. Though I have no plans to revise the story (you can't fix broke) I had to get inside, to see if reality matched what I'd envisioned, and to learn about the auctions that once took place there.
The only PC I like is my laptop. But like so many places around the world, Charleston and slavery are inextricably linked, and while we went in expecting major condemnation, we found a sorrowful, but surprisingly evenhanded and informative look at the history of slavery, and the old mart's role in it.
We weren't permitted to take photos inside, so I can't give you a glimpse of the narrow interior (basically the width of the facade you see in the photo) that was once part of a four-building complex widely known as Ryan's Mart. The building on Chalmers, pictured above, served as the "showroom", not the caged holding area I wrote it to be. On display there now are placards and relics that taught us how the mart was run, how the slaves were brought in, and about the people involved on all ends including the "free blacks" who purchased slaves of their own. They even offer near-ancient audio recordings of interviews with former slaves. It was the beginning of the broader scope presented, and though the admission price is $7.00/adult at this writing, (but we are talking Charleston's Historic District), I highly recommend this stop, as well as the remainder of Museum Mile, for all who long to know Charleston more intimately.
For more information on the Old Slave Mart, go to
For more information on Charleston's Museum Mile, go to
And since I mentioned it, I should include the Slave Mart scene that I originally wrote. And I will, as soon as I figure out where I hid the file.
*Not to be confused with the covered vendor area known as the Slave Market on the corner of Market and Meeting.
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