Race: Are We So Different? opens March 29 at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and will include Teenie Harris images from Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection as a collaboration between the two museums. This photographic project will recreate the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column which ran from the 1950s to 70s in the preeminent African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. In the original column, Teenie’s photos accompanied interviews by reporter George Barbour (approx. 1957–1963). In reflection of this team, current KDKA TV anchor and producer Lynne Hayes-Freeland will serve as the community curator and interviewer, and Pittsburgh artist Nikkia Margaret Hall will photograph people as they respond to some of the same questions posed by and published in the Courier several decades ago. Teenie’s historic portraits and the responses of subjects will be presented alongside their contemporary counterparts in the exhibition’s Community Voices Gallery. Exhibition visitors will be encouraged to post their own opinions and responses to the questions on how race impacts their daily lives.
In an interview with archive staff in 2011, Mr. Barbour described his work with Teenie Harris:
“Yeah, man on the street, that was a lot of fun… so every week, I think it was on—when was it? It was the first of the week, Monday or Tuesday, we’d go Downtown, and the editor Frank Bolden would give us a question to ask. And so we’d just go along and I’d introduce myself to some people, and say: ‘I’m George Barbour, reporter from the Pittsburgh Courier and we’re doing an on-the-street survey, and we’d like very much to talk with you and find out your opinion about uh, what do you think about city government?’ And then the person would start talking away and Teenie would snap the picture, and we’d have about twelve people… I can’t think of being refused it one time—we always had a way of being able to get the confidence of people in this town. Yeah, it was very popular…”
Harris captured more than 3,500 people over two decades for this column. This street portraiture is possibly some of the most spontaneous work he made, yet much of it is quite striking for the way he stood quite close to his subjects and composed the frame. Unlike his studio clients or many of the subjects of his photojournalistic work, most of the people on the street were less likely to know Teenie personally. Their gaze is often direct, occasionally grumpy, frequently warm, and more often than not revealing that Harris had gained their trust.
Barbour interviewed Pittsburghers going about their daily lives Downtown and in other neighborhoods, with questions ranging from subjects that seem ridiculous from today’s perspective, to the city’s everlasting love of its sports teams, to events and issues still unresolved and pertinent now.
Mr. James Embry (Chauncey Street and Wylie Avenue) and Mr. Jack Mager (Sloan Street, McKees Rocks) were part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, May 24, 1958, pg. A1, with the question: “Do you approve of women bartenders?”
Mr. Embry’s answer reads: “No, and one reason is there is too much notoriety, too many risks, and too filthy a job for women, in fact, the way I look at it, if a woman has to go into a bar just as a customer, let her take a table and booth and be seated and served.”
Mr. Mager’s answer reads: “Absolutely not, and mainly because a guy who goes to the bar likes to talk men’s talk. With women around, you can’t talk as you would like to without offending the women.”
Iola Palmer, housewife (Independence Street), was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, May 30, 1959, pg. A1, with the question: “Do you think single or married women make better teachers for elementary grades in public schools? Do you think that married men should teach in elementary grades?”
Her answer reads: “I believe that young single women would make the better teachers. This would open up more jobs for this class. In my opinion, a married woman should not have to work because she has her husband to support her. Frankly, I can’t say why, but I prefer ladies over men to teach elementary grades.”
Ronald Anderson (Rivermont Drive) was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, July 5, 1958, pg. 1, with the question: “What do you think is wrong with the Pittsburgh Pirates? Do you think that they are using their best ball players at all times?”
His answer reads: “The trouble seems to be something which the Pirates go through once a year. I think that if the men on the field were changed around, it would help. Some of the men on the bench could be playing and they probably could be doing as good a job as some of those on the field. Baker and Stevens are two of the men who could be used.”
Elizabeth G. Henderson, state field representative of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, November 28, 1959, pg. A1, with the question: “Do you think race relations are improved, are worse, or about the same today as compared to pre-World War II years?”
Her answer reads: “They are definitely improved, although there is much to be done.”
Benjamin Lewis, unemployed (Roberts Street), was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, January 31, 1959, pg. 32, with the question: “Do you believe in capital punishment? If so, do you think that it should be imposed on convicted defendants under the age of 21?”
His answer reads: “No. I do not believe in capital punishment. And the reason is my religion. I’m a member of the Church of God in Christ. I believe that a person should be tried and sentenced for brutal crimes, if convicted, but the death penalty should not be inflicted. In my opinion, it is all right for a person to be sentenced to life in prison. And, in that way he will pay many times for his crime.”