"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 - November 2023 
  • Where: Level 2, 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.

Listen on Apple Music | Listen on Tidal | Listen on YouTube Music

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

King James Bible belonging to Little Richard
See the Object about King James Bible belonging to Little Richard

Cross pendant owned by Terrell family

Metal cross pendant owned by Mary Church Terrell.
See the Object about Cross pendant owned by Terrell family

Inkwell owned by James Baldwin

This was among James Baldwin's personal effects from his house in St. Paul de Vence in the South of France.
See the Object about Inkwell owned by James Baldwin

Handwritten notes by James Baldwin

Handwritten notes by James Baldwin on Sheraton Tacoma Hotel letterhead. The notes are written on both sides of the letterhead with a heading that reads, "Malcolm's question...To Be A Citizen."
See the Object about Handwritten notes by James Baldwin

Typewriter and case used by secretary of Temple #7

This small Underwood Universal typewriter is black with silver-colored metal trim and white lettering.
See the Object about Typewriter and case used by secretary of Temple #7

Funeral program for Fannie Lou Hamer

The front cover prominently features a black-and-white photograph of Hamer with text above and below, centered inside a thin, black frame.
See the Object about Funeral program for Fannie Lou Hamer

75 Years of Ebony Magazine

Against the backdrop of Jim Crow, Ebony magazine addressed African American cultural and political realities. From the lives of Hollywood celebrities to the ongoing fight for human and civil rights, Johnson Publishing Company publications documented key moments in African American life that changed how we think about ourselves as a nation.

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 publicationsEbony, 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.

Digitizing the Johnson Publishing Company Archive

The Johnson Publishing Company collection is regarded as one of the most significant and substantial collections of Black American culture in the 20th 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. 

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. 

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