Historic Columbia and Richland County have a long-standing partnership in preserving some of the Midlands most significant historic assets, including the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.
Today, this site serves as the home to A Museum of Reconstruction and explores the racial, social and political landscape of Columbia and Richland County after the Civil War from 1865 through 1877.
As an African American and a member of Historic Columbia’s Board of Trustees, the message of this museum is deeply personal for me. The meaning is doubled when you consider that the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction is the only museum in the country dedicated to telling the story of Reconstruction, a time when our nation began to guarantee basic rights and equality to individuals who were formerly enslaved.
The museum, owned by Richland County and operated by Historic Columbia, closed in 2005 to undergo major structural and curatorial revisions. After an eight-year rehabilitation, this landmark building reopened in February 2014 as a 21st-century museum showcasing the Reconstruction era Columbia and Richland County during the 1870s. The museum explores the time in which formerly enslaved African Americans negotiated with opportunities and obstacles faced as new citizens of the United States. These exhibits address history with remarkable transparency. It is my hope that African Americans will join me in embracing the home for its historical significance and that everyone who visits the home will understand the foundation of what citizenship means to us today.
Since its reopening in 2014, the site has seen more than 17,000 visitors. Of that, 52% of visitors travelled from outside of South Carolina to the site, creating a positive boost to the local economy. And, 34% of visitors reside right here in Richland and Lexington counties.
As a resident of the midlands, I am proud to have this world-class museum located right here in our capital city. While we knew we were creating a special product, the accolades and awards from across the state affirm that the ground-breaking exhibits are unique not just to the state and region, but to the country. Since debuting in 2014, the site has won a variety of awards, including the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s 2016 Preserving Our Places in History Project Award, the American Association for State and Local History Award for Merit in 2015, as well as the highly coveted Heritage Tourism Award in 2015.
Recently, the site was added to the Green Book of South Carolina, a travel guide to the state’s African American cultural sites, as an exemplar representation of the history of Reconstruction and is featured on the site’s “Reconstruction in South Carolina Tour.” I invite you to join me in exploring South Carolina’s heritage and history at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction.
This article was originally published in the Columbia Star.