Now On View

This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement



As relevant today as they were half a century ago, more than 150 black-and-white images chronicling the Southern Freedom Movement are featured in This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, on view October 26, 2022, through April 2, 2023, at the Maltz Museum.

This Light of Ours is based on a book of the same name edited by Leslie G. Kelen and featuring works by nine activist photographers who documented the clash between institutionalized discrimination and determined resistance by activists and volunteers during the mid-1960s. The stunning photographs chronicle a pivotal time in American history that can be explored through interrelated sections: Black Life in the Deep South, Organizing for Freedom, State and Local Terror, Marching Against Fear, and Black Power. The Maltz Museum added video footage, life-size installations, and material about voter suppression today.

The exhibition originally appeared in Cleveland in 2016, traveled the country, and now returns for its new showing in 2022. “We added a new section for this run,” explained David Schafer, the Museum’s Managing Director. “We are in a voting year, and this exhibition is about Americans participating in democracy. That’s why we chose to add a new section on voter suppression, then and now. What happened 50 years ago is highly relevant to what is happening today."

It is the Museum’s hope that every middle and high school student in Northeast Ohio can see this exhibition and witness events of the 1960s through the literal lens of people who were there – activist photographers.

Cleveland’s own Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr., a former regional director of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a Selma march participant once said, “If there is no conscience in the community, we have to be that conscience.”

©1966 Maria Varela, Courtesy CDEA

©1966 Maria Varela, Courtesy CDEA

This Light of Ours features photographers Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela and Tamio Wakayama. The photographic portion of the exhibition was organized by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art with major support provided by the Bruce W. Bastian Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. Curator: Matt Herron; Historical Consultant: Charlie Cobb Jr.; Project Originators: Leslie Kelen and Steven Kasher. The films, design and exhibition experience were conceived and produced by the Maltz Museum.

Interactive Biography! Speak with civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr., A.I.

Thursdays at 2:00pm, 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month at 2:00pm
Included with Museum admission

Using state-of-the-art technology, the Museum partnered with StoryFile to capture the courageous life story of Cleveland icon and civil rights activist Reverend Dr. Otis Moss Jr, as an Interactive Conversational Biography. An artificial intelligence (AI) version of Rev. Moss can answer audience questions in real time, mimicking an actual conversation.

Watch Rev. Moss and his wife Edwina see his Interactive Biography for the first time.

Watch a conversation with Museum founder, Milton Maltz and founding board member, Rev Dr Otis Moss Jr.

About Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr.

“Otis Moss is a bridge to a glorious part of American history in ways that nobody else is. He’s that transition from the 1950s and the civil rights era to the hip-hop generation that his son now embodies. Nobody can tell those stories firsthand like he can.” —The Rev. Marvin McMickle, former pastor of Cleveland’s Antioch Baptist Church (Now at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School)

Born in rural Georgia and orphaned at 16, Moss attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he earned his bachelor's degree and a Master of Divinity degree. He absorbed the nonviolent civil rights message at Morehouse, learned from college President Benjamin Mays, and befriended the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Moss helped lead sit-ins at lunch counters and public buildings, pushing for desegregation.

In 1954, he became a pastor. Moss served at several Baptist churches in Lagrange, Georgia, and Atlanta until 1961, when he became pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Cincinnati area. He marched with Dr. King in Selma and Washington, and in 1971 took a break from Mount Zion to co-pastor Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church with the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. In 1974, Moss moved to Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, then Ohio's largest black church, with a membership roster of community leaders.

Well connected to preachers and politicians, Moss continues to be a sought-after speaker and influential figure in social justice movements: he was an advisor to President Jimmy Carter, befriended such figures as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Jesse Jackson, and inspired Oprah Winfrey to speak at—and donate to—Cuyahoga Community College. Moss has repeatedly been named one of America’s most influential black preachers by Ebony Magazine. Now in his nineties, he continues to preach and lecture around the U.S. and the world.

Rev. Moss is a Maltz Museum Board Trustee Emeritus and a long-time supporter of its mission to teach diversity and inclusion.

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