The Pittsburgh Courier during its 56 years of publishing was perhaps the most widely circulated newspaper for Black Americans in the United States. Although the iconic journal went bankrupt and ceased publication in 1966, its legacy lives on.
Among those whose work immortalized the salmon-colored newspaper peddled door-to-door throughout the country in its heyday, was photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris. Prior to Harris’ death in 1998, few people outside his native Pittsburgh, Penn., recognized the significance of his work, but exhibits such as the one now at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library in Atlanta are changing that.
On loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the exhibit, Teenie Harris, Photographer—An American Story, is being shown in the South for the first time. Selected from among the more than 80,000 Harris images owned by the Carnegie Museum, the collection includes photographs made in Harris’ studio and taken throughout Pittsburgh, primarily in the Hill District, the setting of many of playwright August Wilson’s dramas. The exhibit includes hundreds of photographs with subjects ranging from church services, children dressed for Halloween, community activities and Hill District residents going about their daily lives.
Although the photos were taken mostly in Pittsburgh’s Black neighborhoods from the 1930s through the 1960s, the images are likely to resonate with a far larger audience. They tell stories of friendship, family, community and the struggle for dignity and justice. They include children playing in the streets, young men flirting boldly with attractive women, musicians playing in smoky clubs, vendors selling produce from the backs of trucks, folks dressed for an evening on the town and Harris’ sons Charles Jr. and Scott as children playing with their toys on Christmas morning.
There also are photos of famous people who visited Pittsburgh, including entertainers Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and baseball star Jackie Robinson. A Negro League baseball player himself, Harris captured many images from the Pittsburgh Crawfords team.
Harris earned the nickname “One Shot,” for his ability to capture the essence of event clicking his shutter just once. A brochure that accompanies the collection notes, “He captured the poetry of everyday experience, as well as the extraordinary people who shaped the 20th century.”
Laurence Glasco of the University of Pittsburgh speculated that the collection “has got to be by far the largest documentation of African-American urban life in existence anywhere.”
Accompanying the Teenie Harris exhibit is the display Trezzvant Anderson: Roving Reporter and the Jim Crow South. Trezzvant Anderson, who died in 1963, also worked for the Pittsburgh Courier. He traveled throughout the South and documented events that grew into the Civil Rights Movement. The display features news articles, photographs and other materials.
The exhibits, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, are free and open to the public through May 24. The Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library is located at 111 James P. Brawley Dr., SW, Atlanta. For more information, visit www.auctr.edu.