On Saturday February 15, 2014, the Thelma Lovette YMCA in Pittsburgh’s Hill District celebrated its second year with an outstanding Black History month event, centering on the theme “From Which We Came.” The Teenie Harris Archive was invited to display the myriads of photos which Teenie shot in and around the old Centre Avenue YMCA, bearing witness that this original community center was, in fact, the “hub of the Hill” in its heyday.
Established in 1923, it was noted that the first YMCA (at the Corner of Centre Avenue and Francis Street) opened before both the NAACP and the Urban League held branches in Pittsburgh. The many distinguished speakers discussed the fact that the YMCA had been THE place to meet for not just sports events, but organization meetings, society soirees, cotillions, youth groups, plays, and much more. Dr. Leon Haley, who has written a book on the history of the Centre Avenue YMCA, gave an insightful presentation on what went on in the Y, for many decades. There was a Black Civil War Drum Corps reenactment led by John Ford, a performance by the Miller School of African Dance and Drum Troop, as well as elected officials such as city councilman Daniel Lavelle and Bill Robinson giving commendations. Thelma Lovette YMCA executive director, Aaron Gibson, gave a wonderful speech voicing both his, and other board members hopes—that the new facility will come to reflect the positive community bonding of the older facility.
In the coming months, the Teenie Harris Archive will have a permanent display of several historic images on the internal walls of the new Y. However, for this event, the Harris Archive displayed 4 poster boards with over 70 images (and two notebooks with even more images) of people enjoying the facilities of the old Y. One book centered solely on Teenie Harris capturing the philanthropic work of Mrs. Thelma Lovette in his lens. As a result of our display and chatting with guests, the Harris Archive received more than 30 new identifications of people and events. Many were very sentimental about the images of swimmers, basketball games, ping pong and boxing matches, dance classes, voter registration drives, and teen parties. I even found one of my own mother, doing “calisthenics” in the 1940s. Patrons were eager to share their treasured memories of what they loved about going to the Y. (I was particularly amused to hear about the many courtships begun at this central location.) So once again I’m happy to say the Teenie Harris Archive offered insight and reflection on a most historic Pittsburgh venue.