"Spirit in the Dark" examines Black religious life through a selection of photographs from the Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony, Jet and Negro Digest.
The images in the exhibition spotlight noteworthy individuals — including religious and political leaders, musicians, authors, athletes, activists and educators — and are supported by an array of objects from the museum’s collection, many on display for the first time.
About the Exhibition
- When: November 18, 2022 - April 7, 2024
- Where: Level 2 (L2), Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA) Gallery
Explore the Storylines in Searchable Museum
Diverse aspects of the Black Religious experience are revealed by stories of artists bluring the boundaries between the holy and the profane, Black religious leaders bearing witness to wrongs and lighting the pathway to freedom and activists articulating the complex dimensions of the suffering and trauma of Black people in America.
Experience the Music
Sonically, lyrically, or instrumentally, many of these artists blur and transgress the boundaries between the holy and the profane, the sacred and the secular. Some tap deeply into religious traditions, using music and verse to lead people in praise or in protest. Others draw on their creative genius to articulate the complex dimensions of Black suffering, or to offer bold visions of hope and new worlds of Black possibility.
I think God is inside everybody. Prince Ebony Magazine, 1986
Discover the Collection
Sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, at times in the shadows—religion is essential to the story of Black America. Objects in the museum's collection testify to religion's role in the struggle for human dignity and social equality.
King James Bible belonging to Little Richard
Cross pendant owned by Terrell family
Inkwell owned by James Baldwin
Handwritten notes by James Baldwin
Typewriter and case used by secretary of Temple #7
Funeral program for Fannie Lou Hamer
The Johnson Publishing Company
In the Black press, religion often finds reflection in the images, comments, stories and lives of noteworthy individuals, including religious and political leaders, musicians, authors, athletes, activists and educators.
Founded in 1942 by John H. and Eunice W. Johnson, the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) celebrated African American culture with its foundational publications—Ebony, Jet and Negro Digest (later Black World). The magazines and many other, lesser-known Johnson publications bore witness to Black life well into the 21st century.
In 2019, a consortium of five nonprofit organizations including the Ford Foundation, the Getty Trust, the MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution banded together to purchase and preserve the JPC archive, which includes over 4 million prints, negatives, slides and other photographic formats, as well as more than 10,000 audiovisual items.
The archive is now jointly owned by our museum and the Getty Research Institute, who are working together to preserve, catalog and digitize these materials so they can be shared and studied for generations to come.
The photographs featured in this exhibition are from a legacy collection of 2,800 of the most iconic images from the Johnson Publishing Company archive.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Journey Through History Your Way
Explore our latest Searchable Museum online exhibition with new interactives to experience the themes and subjects examined in the gallery.