By Sofia Majeed, AAJA JCamp 2023 — Washington D.C.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were central figures in the civil rights movement, but a less recognized figure is Reverend Ike. His life’s work is central to a new exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Museum is currently home to the Spirit in the Dark exhibit, which focuses on the intersection of religions, activism and music in the Black community throughout American history.
The attraction uses photographs from Ebony and Jet magazines to showcase those who heavily contributed to the popularization or awareness of religion in the Black community.
“I do think that there needs to be greater recognition on the intersection and collaboration between religions within the Black community,” incoming Howard University freshmen Grace Callwood said. “Especially through the form of activism.”
The rich history between the physical places of worship and using those spaces as a platform for activism is a main reason for this temporary exhibit. The curator of this exhibit, Eric Lewis Williams, has an academic background in religion and Black culture.
“Seeing [the photos] it’s almost being transported back into that time, especially given the issues that we’re facing in the modern world,” Kalila Jackson, 42, said. “It makes [the exhibit] much more relevant.”
The issues Jackson is referring to include, but are not limited to, divisiveness between communities in the name of religion and the assumption that faith should be associated with activism and progressive change. But this exhibit displays multiple photos that make it impossible to disregard the intersection between Islam and Black history.
Religion and faith is often dismissed as being a divider, an outlet for hate and negativity. The Spirit in the Dark exhibit combats that narrative by using photographs and objects to illustrate how interconnected faith is with inspiring change and inspiring activists. Both Muhammad Ali and Reverend Ike used their respective pulpits to use their faith as a backing for their activism, a lost art in today’s divisive world.