To understand the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, it is important to consider its rich history.
To understand the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, it is important to consider its rich history. Founded in 1865 as the Avery Normal Institute, this community hub provided education and advocacy for the growing Charleston African American community and trained Blacks for professional careers and leadership roles. Although the Institute closed its doors in 1954, its graduates preserved the legacy of their alma mater by establishing the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture (AIAAHC).
Avery alum Lucille Whipper worked with Margaretta P. Childs, a white archivist for the City of Charleston, and various other supporters to organize efforts to acquire the Avery building. The AIAAHC formed in 1980 with a mission to obtain and preserve the former Avery Normal Institute building as an archival repository and museum to promote Black history and culture in the Lowcountry. Whipper became the first AIAAHC president and launched a campaign that grew to involve dedicated Avery alumni, local volunteers, the College of Charleston, and state political leaders.
The modern rebirth of Avery began in 1985 with the establishment of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston. The newly christened center came to fruition through a memorandum of understanding between the former Avery Institute and the College, with many of the charter members graduates of the original Avery Normal Institute. The ribbon cutting and grand opening was held on October 6, 1990. Dr. Myrtle G. Glascoe was the first director of the Avery Research Center, and she served in this role for eight years. Dr. Glascoe’s signature work during her tenure at the Avery Research Center included highlighting Gullah history and culture and fusing important Avery Research Center/Lowcountry African Diaspora links by connecting the ancestral dots between people of the Lowcountry and Sierra Leone, West Africa. Attendees of the ribbon cutting ceremony heard from Sierra Leonean educator and diplomat Dr. George Carew.
Over the years, the Center’s mission and vision has been stewarded by Dr. Marvin Dulaney, Dr. Karen Chandler, Ms. Georgette Mayo (interim), Dr. Patricia Williams Lessane (now Dr. Patricia Williams Dockery), and Dr. Tamara Butler. For the last thirty years, the Avery Research Center has collected books, art, and archival materials that document the history, traditions, and legacies of African Americans and their influence on American society and culture, as well as their place within the American narrative. The Avery Research Center also regularly hosts public programs, conducts educational outreach activities, and displays exhibitions for thousands of local, national, and international visitors.