Constructed in 1867 to 1868, the Avery Normal Institute was Charleston's first free secondary school for African Americans. Reverend F. L. Cardoza organized the school at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Cardoza received a grant of $10,000 for his school from the estate of Reverend Charles Avery of Pittsburgh, a philanthropic Methodist, for whom the school was named. Further financial assistance was received from the Freedman's Bureau, local merchants, and the American Missionary Association of New York City, who also staffed the school. Constructed by local white contractors for $17,000, the school was designed in the Italianate style with arched entry, cupola, and piazzas running the length of the building and opening into classrooms.
The School operated as a private institution serving Charleston's most prominent free black families. By 1900, enrollment had reached nearly 500. In 1947, the institute became a public city school. Notable graduates of Avery Institute are T.M. Stuart, a Supreme Court Justice in Liberia; Dr. R.S. Wilkinson, President of South Carolina State College; and Richard E. Fields, the first African American in modern times to be named as Judge of the Municipal Court of Charleston, and the second black Circuit Judge.
Currently known as the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the center is part of the College of Charleston and operates as a museum and archives for African American history and culture. It is one of more than 1400 historically significant buildings within the Charleston Old and Historic District.