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Exhibitions

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Ambrotype of an African American Woman with a Flag, 1865

Slavery & Freedom

Explore the history of slavery in the U.S. and the stories of African Americans whose struggles for freedom shaped the nation.

4 Parts

Five hundred years ago, a new form of slavery transformed Africa, Europe, and the Americas. For the first time, people saw other human beings as commodities—things to be bought, sold, and exploited to make enormous profits. This system changed the world. The United States was created in this context, forged by slavery as well as a radical new concept, freedom. This is a shared story, a shared past, told through the lives of African Americans who helped form the nation.

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A purple silk banner with gold fringe and the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs' motto, "LIFTING / AS / WE CLIMB" painted in large gold letters.

Making a Way Out of No Way

Through community institutions and activism, African Americans crafted possibilities in a world that denied them opportunities.

6 Themes

How do you make a way out of no way? For generations, African Americans worked collectively to survive and thrive in the midst of racial oppression. Through education, religious institutions, businesses, the press, and organizations, Black men and women created ways to serve and strengthen their communities. They established networks of mutual support, cultivated leadership, and improved social and economic opportunities. They also developed a tradition of activism that paved the way for broader social change.

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Photograph of Marvin Gaye in a purple jacket on stage performing

Spirit in the Dark

Diverse aspects of the Black religious experience are revealed through photographs and stories of individuals featured in Ebony, Jet, and other Johnson Publishing Company publications.

3 Themes

Sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, at times in the shadows—but always somewhere in the frame—religion is essential to the story of Black America. In the Black press, which has served as a primary chronicle of Black life, 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. The photographs and stories in this exhibition, drawn from the Johnson Publishing Company archive, reflect diverse aspects of the Black religious experience and testify to the role religion has played in the struggle for human dignity and social equality.

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Images of a carte-de-visite photograph of conjoined twins Millie and Christine McCoy.

Millie Christine

Millie Christine McCoy were conjoined twins born into slavery in Whiteville, North Carolina. Known as “The Carolina Twins” and the “Two-Headed Nightingale,” the enslaved twins were exhibited before the Civil War as circus and sideshow attractions in parts of the United States and Europe.

3 Themes

Millie Christine McCoy were conjoined twins born into slavery in Whiteville, North Carolina. Known as “The Carolina Twins” and the “Two-Headed Nightingale,” the enslaved twins were exhibited before the Civil War as circus and sideshow attractions in parts of the United States and Europe. This exhibition examines the complexities of freedom, profit, slavery, and family in the 19th century.

In this exhibit, we refer to the twins as Millie Christine, as they often identified themselves, and acknowledge them as two people.