Denmark Vesey Bicentenary

“When I was growing up the whispering about Denmark Vesey was deafening, it is time to speak and be heard.”
– Lee J. Bennett Jr.
Mother Emanuel AME Church Historian

This July the Charleston Gaillard Center is partnering with Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the soon-to-open International African American Museum (IAAM), to mark the bicentenary of freedom fighter Denmark Vesey’s planned uprising to free the enslaved people of Charleston through three days of free and paid cultural performances and conversations. Taking place July 14-16, 2022, the Gaillard Center will open its doors to the Charleston community to acknowledge America’s difficult history of race and slavery, and use the arts to bridge divides, build dialogues, and support healing in a city that historically saw some of the first enslaved men, women and children enter through its port, and only six years ago, witnessed the racially motivated murder of nine congregants at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

Consisting of discussion panels, musical and comedy performances, and installations, the three-day initiative will bring together prominent artists, scholars, educators, and the community to reflect on Denmark Vesey—a formerly enslaved man and respected, multilingual church leader and businessman—and redefine his place in American history.


Thursday, July 14 at 7:30pm – Truth be Told: Vesey Panel Discussion

Friday, July 15 at 8:00pm – Performance by multi-platinum singer, songwriter, producer, and actor Anthony Hamilton

Saturday, July 16 at 5:00pm – Orchestrating Freedom: a free concert featuring the Charleston Symphony and Lowcountry Voices

Saturday, July 16 at 9:00pm – Performance by Comedian DL Hughley

(Lineup subject to change. Learn more about the events below.)

About Denmark Vesey

Born either in St. Thomas or Africa around 1767, Denmark Vesey (vee-SEE) was sold to a slaver captain named Joseph Vesey in 1781, assuming the latter’s surname. He was a skilled carpenter and accompanied the captain on numerous voyages, eventually settling in Charleston. After 18 years of bondage, in 1799 Denmark won the East Bay Street Lottery and was allowed to purchase his freedom, though his wife and children remained under the ownership of a different slave master.

As a free man Vesey remained determined to liberate the oppressed enslaved people of Charleston, and in 1822 organized what has been hailed by historians Douglas R. Egerton and Robert L. Paquette as “the most sophisticated collective [plan] against slavery in the U.S.” Vesey envisioned that after freeing hundreds of men, women and children, the liberated masses would all sail to Haiti to live as free citizens. However, his plans were leaked and ultimately foiled. One hundred and thirty-one Africans were arrested, with 92 put on trial and another 11 sent into permanent exile.

On July 2, 1822, Denmark Vesey was executed. In total, 35 Black men were either hung or shot as a result of the never-to-be-realized revolution. In the end Vesey’s thwarted efforts were followed by an additional four decades of chattel slavery in the South, further dehumanizing Africans in Charleston, before the Civil War ended in 1865.

Today a monument of Vesey, erected in 2014, stands in Hampton Park, Charleston. It has been met with ongoing controversy as Vesey’s historical legacy remains misconstrued by the racialized lens of history with some still believing he was a criminal and a terrorist, while others recognize him for what he is, an extraordinary man and a Freedom Fighter whose actions were rooted in the spirit in which the United States was founded.

About the Charleston Gaillard Center

A leader in the performing arts in the Southeast, The Charleston Gaillard Center commissions, supports, and presents ambitious, multidisciplinary cultural programming and provides access to the best local, national, and global artists and companies on its stage. Deeply rooted in the community, the Gaillard Center is committed to elevating local and regional voices and partnering with Charleston institutions to reflect the city’s diversity, both on stage and off. Through programming on its public campus and extensive arts education initiatives, the Gaillard Center serves as a platform to participate in community building and essential dialogue.

Located in the heart of the Inspiration Corridor, Charleston’s cultural hub, and across the street from Mother Emanuel AME Church and half a mile from the soon-to-open International African American Museum (IAAM), the Gaillard Center was established as a nonprofit in 2015. Its campus includes the 1,818-seat Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall, a 16,000 square-foot Exhibition Hall, and a park space that was recently activated for artistic presentations. Find more information and upcoming programming at

About the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

For more than two hundred years Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church has been, and forever will be, a light in the pathway of darkness. Often referred to as Mother Emanuel, it is the oldest AME church below the Mason-Dixon line. Originally founded in 1818, the current church structure was built in 1891 in the style of Gothic revival architecture and still contains several preserved original features, among them its pews, gas lighting, chandeliers, stained glass windows, and a pipe organ that dates to 1908. Mother Emanuel AMEC continues to provide leadership in the Charleston community and adds its prominent voice to various social justice and gun violence issues.

On Wednesday, June 17th, 2015, at the conclusion of Bible Study, while the group closed the session in prayer, a white supremacist murdered three members of the Church’s ministerial staff, the senior pastor, five beloved members, and left five survivors. The tragedy of June 17th, 2015, shook the foundations of Mother Emanuel AMEC to their very core. Acts of Christian love were met by forces of hate, racism, bigotry, and violence. A welcomed visitor ended the weekly Bible Study with actions that the church has never experienced in more than two centuries. To ensure that the memory of the Emanuel Nine, the Survivors, and the power of forgiveness is never forgotten, the Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation has embarked on building a lasting memorial which is scheduled to be completed late in 2023. Mother Emanuel AMEC continues to celebrate centuries of faith, resilience, and love, holding weekly worship services, daily Bible Studies, and sharing the church’s history through scheduled tours. For more information, please visit

About the International African American Museum

The International African American Museum (IAAM) explores the African American journey through the power of place by acknowledging the achievements of these individuals, exhibiting how their labor, resistance, and ingenuity has shaped every aspect of our world. Located in Charleston, S.C., the museum sits at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf, one of the country’s most prolific slave trading ports.

IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history and is thus one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as it evolves today. Set to open in late 2022, early 2023, IAAM is positioned to honor the untold experiences of the African American journey and beyond. For more information, please visit or call 843-872-5352.

Lee J. Bennett, Jr.
W. Kamau Bell
Charlamagne tha God
Dr. Tonya M. Matthews
Dr. Tamara Butler
Dr. Bernard E. Powers

Thursday, July 14 | 7:30pm
Truth be Told: Vesey

Charleston Gaillard Center
Martha & John M. Rivers Performance Hall
Tickets start at $25 (plus fees)

A discussion with leading American writers and thinkers about the truth around Denmark Vesey and his planned uprising, the impact and outcomes in the intervening 200 years, and a look at the present and future of those themes in the South today. Panelists include:

  • Lee J. Bennett Jr., Mother Emanuel AME Church Historian and panel moderator
  • W. Kamau Bell, Comedian, Director, and Executive Producer
  • Charlamagne tha God, Media Mogul and TV Personality
  • Dr. Tonya M. Matthews, President & CEO of the International African American Museum
  • Dr. Tamara Butler, Executive Director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
  • Dr. Bernard Powers, Founding Director of the College of Charleston’s Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston
  • BAMUTHI (Marc Bamuthi Joseph), Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the Kennedy Center, librettist and poet

Friday, July 15 | 8:00pm
Denmark Vesey Bicentenary: Anthony Hamilton

Charleston Gaillard Center
Martha & John M. Rivers Performance Hall
Tickets start at $35 (plus fees)

R&B places you in a moment. You not only hear it, but you also see it, touch it, and feel it. It may very well be the most vivid vehicle for storytelling outside of the silver screen.

Every time Anthony Hamilton gets behind a microphone, he sings a story—never sparing his passion, pain, loss, love, and everything in between. The GRAMMY® Award-winning multiplatinum singer, songwriter, producer, actor, author, and icon proudly maintains the traditions of timeless R&B through everything he does with his own swagger, spirit, and soul.

This especially holds true on his tenth full-length offering, first album in five years, and flagship release for My Music Box and BMG, Love Is The New Black.

“R&B is the foundation for so much music, man,” he exclaims. “That underlying storytelling is the gritty fabric of life woven in all of us. It’s always been important to me. My favorite songs paint a picture. They live longer in a deeper place. In my songs, I create these moments. Maybe listeners can recreate their own memories in a way, so they can feel good. R&B does that. It’s still alive; it’s never going anywhere.”

He continually proves that. Throughout an illustrious near three-decade career, he has sold over 50 million albums worldwide to date, he took home a 2009 GRAMMY® Award in the category of “Best Traditional R&B Performance,and hedelivered a momentous concert for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, living up to the title of “narrator of love” in historic fashion. In addition to nine classic albums and smashes such as “Charlene,” he remains the rare talent who can collaborate with everyone from Al Green, Buddy Guy, and Santana to 2Pac, Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, and Mark Ronson. His voice can also be heard on “Freedom” from the Academy® Award-nominated blockbuster Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino. An accomplished actor, he made his film debut in the critically acclaimed American Gangster and recently starred as Kyle Kirby in the BET+ feature, Carl Weber’s Influence. He’s featured as the subject of the NPR documentary series Noteworthy. He also self-published Cornbread, Fish ‘n Collared Greens, which details the stories behind some of his most recognizable tunes and explores another passion: southern food.

However, 2020 marked a major first as he took full ownership of his music, launched My Music Box as its home, and initiated a distribution deal with BMG.

“Well, it was time,” he smiles. “I paid my dues. I’ve been signed to a major label since 1993. There’s no better way to create a legacy than to own your work, take it, invest in it, and grow it. I’m focused on running my business and bringing my music to the right people. We’re all excited to build something together. My Music Box is everything I believe to be special. The best is yet to come though. Believe me, we’re coming with it.”

He came with it hard. Over the course of a year, Hamilton carefully assembled Love Is The New Black. Given the climate of post-George Floyd America, he instinctively followed an impulse to make a “politically-leaning project.

However, as always, he broadened the spectrum to illuminate the power of love in a way that the world has never seen, heard, or felt before.

“I wanted to do something different,” he explains. “Love Is The New Black is exactly how I felt. I didn’t want to detach from what we’ve been going through over the past year, but I did want to go into a new era with a different mindset expecting greatness, love, and peace and, ultimately, reaching a better place together. I wanted this album to feel like what was missing throughout the pandemic. This is the restoration. We’re making this thing called life, sexy, beautiful and powerful again.”

Speaking of, he first set the stage for this moment with “You Made A Fool Of Me.” Not only did it rack up millions of streams, but it also garnered praise from Soul Bounce, The House That Soul Built, The Musical Hype, and Rolling Stone who described it as a “pour-salt-in-the wound ballad.On its heels, the single and title track “Love Is The New Black” rides a simmering drumbeat towards a hypnotic hook, “I know where I’m going. You know where it’s at. One thing that’s for sure. Love is the new black.

It’s just one shade of the album though. Among these 14 anthems, Anthony welcomes everyone from Academy® Award winner Jennifer Hudson(“Superstar) to rap titan Rick Ross (“Real Love”) and the god of Crunk Lil’ Jon (“I’m Ready”) to join him. Additionally, he delivers one of his most irresistible performances on “White Henessy,” leaving listeners drunk on vibes.

Bringing everything full circle, he closes out the record with “Mama Don’t Cry,” serving as a tearful homage to George Floyd. “If you don’t go to church, it’s right here in that song, he states.

“When you listen to Love Is The New Black, I want you to know real music never dies; it’s never gone anywhere,” he adds. “The soul of music that came before of us and set the tone is here. It’s relevant. It’s breathing. It’s living. You deserve classics, and this is my gift to you.”

Through performances and this new music, he reaffirms the power of R&B and its progression.

“The record is a different energy for me,” he admits. “I want my fans to feel like they’re at home, but I still want to push them out of their comfort zones and sonically challenge them to grow with me.”

Through the album, the book, performances, and his forthcoming hat line House of Fedora, Anthony Hamilton continues one of the greatest stories in R&B history.

“I am a father who does music,” he leaves off. “That’s it. I’m well-traveled and hungry for growth. I’m a leader. I’m a man of God. I’ll be around for a long time. When you hear me, I hope you go, ‘That’s the Anthony Hamilton I love. He ain’t lost it yet. He probably never will. Damn, that man can sing!”

Saturday, July 16 | 5:00pm
Orchestrating Freedom

Charleston Gaillard Center
Martha & John M. Rivers Performance Hall
Simulcast Outdoors
FREE Concert – RSVP Required

A free concert of selected music that evokes the American promise of freedom and the pursuit of liberty, in juxtaposition to the experience of Denmark Vesey and other enslaved individuals, performed by the Charleston Symphony led by its Associate Conductor, Kellen Gray, and Lowcountry Voices led by Nathan Nelson. Curated by the Charleston Symphony and Lowcountry Voices, this program will honor the lives lost and the voices silenced through race-based violence in the United States, while also paying homage to the legacies of Black leaders throughout history.

Gaillard Center partner and resident orchestra, the Charleston Symphony is one of the leading arts organizations in the Southeast. The CSO strives to not only be recognized for both performance and presentation of the highest quality music, but also to engage and enrich people of all backgrounds and beliefs through culturally meaningful and relevant programming for our communities.

Lowcountry Voices is a multicultural and ethnically diverse choral performing arts organization based in North Charleston, SC. It performs all genres of choral music with an emphasis on African American music performed in the South Carolina Lowcountry tradition.

Turning awesome events into epic everlasting memories, #PartlyCloudy Brass Band delivers that ideology whenever they are called. Led by Orangeburg, SC native Clyde Frazier III, this ensemble brings a different element to the scene with their funky soul, infectious grooves, their relentless energy, and ability to make their audience move. #PartlyCloudy

Saturday, July 16 | 9:00pm
Denmark Vesey Bicentenary: DL Hughley

Charleston Gaillard Center
Martha & John M. Rivers Performance Hall
Tickets start at $52 (plus fees)

One of the most popular and highly recognized standup comedians on the road today has also made quite an impression in the television, film and radio arenas.  DL can currently be heard nationwide as host of his own afternoon radio show “The DL Hughley Show”which is nationally syndicated in over 60 cities across the country.  The radio show dives head first into hot topics of the day and dishes on the latest news, entertainment, pop culture and what’s trending in social media.   The radio show is also seen in its TV component – “Uncut,” which runs on the LOL Network on Pluto TV.  The show airs weekly in a lifestream format.

This June 15, 2021, Harper Collins released DL’s fifth book How to Survive America, following last year’s successful title Surrender, White People.  Two of his satirical titles Black Man, White House: An Oral History of the Obama Years and How Not to Get Shot…And Other Advice From White People, became New York Times bestsellers.  It was recently announced that Comedy Central will shoot a docu-comedy series of How Not to Get Shot. 

DL continues to dominate the stand up stage, producing specials for Netflix, Showtime and HBO.  His 11th stand up special  “DL Hughley: Contrarian”is currently available on Netflix.

DL also created and starred in the satirical documentary special for Comedy Central DL Hughley: The Endangered List, which premiered to rave reviews.  The special was honored with the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award at the 72nd Annual Peabody Awards.

Known for being astute and politically savvy in true comedian-style, DL served as host of his own late night talk shows on CNN and Comedy Central, and was a series regular on the Aaron Sorkin NBC drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. DL hosted the TBS’s game show Trust Me, I’m a Game Show Host.  He also tapped into his playful side and participated in the 16th season of the hit ABC show Dancing with the Stars.

As the star and producer of his namesake television show that ran on ABC and UPN The Hughleys, DL is also well known as one of the standout comedians on the ground-breaking tour and docu-film The Original Kings of Comedy.  A veteran of numerous talk show appearances, he is a regular on the late night talk show circuit, including always-memorable appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher, CNN and The Tonight Show.  He is frequently requested as a guest host for such shows as Good Morning America, The View and Live with Kelly.

DL’s first love always has been, and always will be, standup comedy.  “From the minute I first walked onstage and picked up a microphone,” he says, “I knew that it was what I was meant to do.”