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Speak to my Heart
Communities of Faith and Contemporary African American Life.

Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture

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Introduction

Since the arrival of Africans in the Americas, religious institutions and spiritual traditions have been at the heart of African American civic, social, and cultural life. Free and enslaved Africans brought their own religious and spiritual traditions--including Islam, Yoruba, and Akan belief systems--with them, and adopted, adapted, and transformed Christianity. Religious institutions represent a constant which adapts to meet the changing needs of a dynamic community. The Black church not only provides spiritual strength and guidance, but also focuses on issues of social and human justice. The familiar scenes of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., other ministers, and civil rights activists leading marches to end segregation and racial injustice are now a permanent part of the American historical memory.

SPEAK TO MY HEART examines the various ways in which African American Christian churches and congregations of other faiths work in our contemporary society. It is part of the Anacostia Museum's continuing effort to explore the role of these unique institutions in Black life. It celebrates the determination of Black congregations and individuals to meet the challenges of a complex society in the 1990s.

This exhibit is about faith and spiritual traditions in the African American community. It is also about church efforts to combat hunger and homelessness. It is about the church as an agent of community and economic development. It is about education and entrepreneurship. It explores gender roles. It looks at ways in which liturgy, vestments, and dec'or have changed in order to be more reflective of African American culture. It looks at the challenge of providing compassionate care to those living with HIV/AIDS. This exhibit looks at churches at work outside the walls of their sanctuaries--on the streets, in prisons, and in schools.

SPEAK TO MY HEART is an examination of the collective will of religious leaders and an exploration of the ways in which individual belief shapes and changes African American history and culture.

What Do We Mean by "the Black Church"?

While this exhibit focuses primarily on Christian churches and congregations, it also acknowledges the variety of religious traditions which are historically part of the African American experience, including Islam, Black Hebrew, and African-based religions. Congregations may belong to African American denominations or be part of traditionally White denominations. Each congregation defines its own rules, traditions, and group identity. Individuals take meaning from the particular character of their church and congregation. In this exhibition, the terms "church" and "congregation" are used interchangeably to mean persons gathered together for worship, spiritual growth, and community support.

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