Seventy-five years ago today, in 1938, the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper printed pictures of a young Lena Horne (a Pittsburgher at the time) at the Allegheny County Airport as she departed for Hollywood. She spent the hours before at a farewell party in her honor at the Loendi Club in the Hill District. At the airport, her husband Louis Jones, her father Teddy Horne, and friends Woogie and Ada Harris were there to wish her a bon voyage—she had even borrowed a Persian lamb coat from Ada Harris for the trip. Teenie Harris was there the entire time and photographed the young star in broad smiles looking excited and beautiful. Shortly afterwards, the readers of the Courier, the most widely circulated black newspaper in the country, saw these pictures, though without any credit to the photographer. However, we believe that they are possibly the first ones that Harris had published in the Courier. At the same time, these pictures, along with several others, were published in a two-page spread in the Washington, D.C.-based Flash Newspicture magazine.
Spread from Flash Newspicture magazine, February 14, 1938, pages 22–23
Harris had begun contributing images to Flash in the autumn of 1937, about the time he purchased his trademark 4×5 Speed Graphic camera.
Photographer unknown, Charles “Teenie” Harris in front of Flash circulation office, 2132 Centre Avenue, Hill District, c. 1937
By 1938, he was listed on the masthead of Flash as one of the publication’s photographers, and he had opened a photography studio with Harry Beale at 2128 Centre Avenue in the Hill District. Several stories circulate about exactly how, when, and why Harris began to work with the Courier, but he was beginning to make a name for himself as a photographer. Other Pittsburgh Courier staff, including reporter-photographer Joe Sewell, photographer Alex Rivera, and gossip columnist Julia Bumry Jones also contributed to Flash. Whatever the specific details were (and we would love to know them) about Harris’s early relationship with the Courier, within a few months he was regularly freelancing for the publication. In the May 7, 1938, issue he was finally credited for his picture of Marva Louis, wife of boxer Joe Louis, at a fashion show.
Charles “Teenie” Harris, Marva Louis standing behind artificial palm tree, for Centre Avenue YMCA Junior Hostesses Fashion Revue, April 1938
Harris became a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1941, and continued into the mid- to late 1970s, amassing possibly the largest body of work of a black community by a single photographer in the mid-twentieth century.