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July 13, 2014, 7:02 pm

Charleston retains African influences

The seaport city of Charleston, S.C., offers visitors a taste of old-world charm combined with Southern sophistication. Add to that great food, lovely accommodations and many sites to visit and enjoy, and you have a great vacation spot, especially during spring and summer when beautiful formal gardens explode with color.

Charleston is a city of style, where a walk along the waterfront will likely produce a man who will bow and tip his hat to a woman passing by.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened to my daughter during our tip to Charleston. It’s a charming custom, but as she had never seen it before, having been brought up in the North, it startled her a bit until I explained this Southern gesture of greeting.

The charm is just one thing to behold in Charleston. Among the many other things that could possibly draw you there is the influence of African-American history with its large impact on the culture and customs that remain in the area even today.

Here is a city where many scholars argue that the African-American experience in North America began, and support this theory by showing that Charleston, more than any other American city, has preserved the African cultural heritage of African Americans.

African-American influences span the visual arts, architecture, music, and even the cuisine of Charleston. For example, the great works of Phillips Simmons, one of the most celebrated of Charleston’s ironworkers of the 20th century, is a nationally renowned African-American artisan and blacksmith whose works truly decorate the city of Charleston from end to end.

Also, when touring around the city, either by foot or horse and carriage, take in the Old Bethel United Methodist Church, the third oldest church building surviving in Charleston. The church is an architectural reminder of the significant relationship between African Americans and the Methodist Church.

And while you’re exploring this city end to end, take advantage of the many other history-laden sites. You might want to start by walking along the many historic streets where century-old houses peek from behind wrought iron gates.

Almost every street in Charleston seems to be historic. Houses, mostly wood frame or brick, some set on cobblestone streets, remind one a bit of historic Philadelphia, except for the fact that Charleston is smaller, quieter and more reserved.

One of the sites you’ll want to visit is the South Carolina Aquarium. It’s also a great place from which to view the harbor.

Make sure to fit into your schedule the Charleston Museum, founded in 1773 and regarded as America’s oldest museum.

For a rare and colorful experience, head on over to Rainbow Row. This section on East Bay Street, built between the 1720s and 1790s, was considered the slum area of Charleston after the Civil War. It was renovated in the early 1900s and has been dubbed “Rainbow Row.” It has become a familiar face of Charleston.

A must-see is the Old City Market, dating back to 1841. Market Street features independent merchants selling their wars in an open-air setting, including Gullah ladies weaving the ever-famous sweet-grass baskets. (Located on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia are communities of people who are the descendants of enslaved Africans. They and the language they speak are referred to as Gullah.) Market Street is also attractively lined with specialty shops and restaurants.

The King Street shopping district has much to recommend it as well because it is probably the most famous shopping area of Charleston, offering all kinds of wares sure to appeal to any tourist.

But after your shopping is complete, you’re sure to want to head over to Waterfront Park and enjoy a leisurely swing on the pier while looking for dolphins in the harbor with the USS Yorktown as the backdrop. The Pineapple Fountain at Charleston can also be found here with other intimate gardens and jogging paths along the water’s edge.

I’ve been to Charleston twice, and if all goes well, I look forward to a return visit someday soon.