Built in 1859, the Old Slave Mart was actually constructed due to a tightening of slavery laws that incited the creation of no-less-horrible private auctions.
During the height of the American slave trade, as many as 35-40% of foreign slaves passed through Charleston on their way to plantations across the American South. Traditionally the auctioning of slaves took place in public displays along the city’s North side, but in 1856, the city put a stop to the public sale of slaves. However, this did not stop the practice, it simply prompted the creation of private auction houses like the Old Slave Mart. The auction front was built on Chalmers Street and soon became a bazaar of teeming private auction businesses. In addition to human slaves, the mart also auctioned livestock and farmland. The inhumane industry came to an end when the Union army occupied Charleston, and over the years all of the auction houses except for the Old Slave Mart were dismantled.
In the years following the city’s initial emancipation efforts, the historic building was used as a tenement, a museum, and even a car dealership. Today the site hosts a museum devoted to remembering Charleston’s history of slavery. The museum is even supposedly staffed by some members whose heritage can be traced to slave auctions that took place in the very building.
While similar markets and locations around the country have been repurposed as historic buildings with little to no acknowledgment of their past, the Old Slave Mart faces its relationship to the horrific history of American slavery head on.