Last week, Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, embarked on a five day visit to Charleston, South Carolina, on a mission to strengthen the partnership between Freetown and Charleston.
Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was hosted by the International African-American Museum (IAAM), whose president, Michael Bouleware-Moore, visited Freetown in February 2019. The IAAM had expressed deep interest in consolidating common ties between Freetown & Charleston, which can be traced to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Majority of enslaved Sierra Leoneans who left African soil on Bunce Island (which is situated on the Freetown Harbor), first landed on American soil on Gadsden Wharf in Charleston. It is on a portion of Gadsden Wharf that the International African-American Museum is set to be built by 2021 and it is on that rich history that future collaboration between Freetown and Charleston through art, culture & tourism will be built.
During Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s visit, she had visited several sites that map the story of economic and cultural contributions of enslaved Africans and their descendants to Charleston. These visits included a guided tour of Black Refractions: Highlights from the Harlem Studio, an exhibition that surveys close to a century of creative achievements f artists of African descent; a visit to the Aiken-Rhett House Slave Quarters and the Old Slave Mart; a boat tour of Magnolia Plantation, and special visit to Mother Emanuel A.M.E Church, the oldest A.M.E church in the south of the United States, where 9 people were killed during a shooting in 2015.
On Tuesday 9th July, after a stakeholders meeting with the City of Charleston, IAAM and Sister-City International Meeting to finalize the details of a Freetown-Charleston Sister-City relationship, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr & Mayor Tecklenburg of Charleston signed a Sister-City Partnership Agreement. Amongst other things, the partnership will promote the exchange of economic, tourism and civic programs between both cities.
On the final day of the trip, became the first Mayor of Freetown to met with the Gullah-Geechee Kinship, descendants of enslaved Sierra Leoneans, in her capacity as Mayor of Freetown. The depth of the cultural ties between Freetown and Charleston was demonstrated when Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was welcomed with songs that she had learnt from her grandparents in Freetown! The welcome ceremony happened the Penn Center, one of the most significant African-American historic and cultural institutions in the US, located on St. Helena Island.
The discussion of details of the partnership between Freetown and Charleston, through the IAAM & the Charleston City Council will continue. The Mayor of Freetown and the Freetown City Council will use outcomes of the trip to South Carolina to develop its #DiscoverFreetown campaign, aimed at positioning Freetown as a destination city for African-Americans who are eager to learn about their ancestry.