How Teenie Harris Became an Eyewitness to Political Change
Teenie Harris Photographs: Elections offers an insider’s view of African American political life in Pittsburgh from the 1940s to the early 1970s, a period when once-disenfranchised minority voters established themselves as a growing force in American politics. From city council races to congressional campaigns and presidential elections, Charles “Teenie” Harris was there with his camera, an eyewitness to the historic changes unfolding around him.
Harris’s photographs of the democratic process defined much of his 40-year career as a photojournalist at the Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper renowned for its reporting on local politics, national events, and powerful people in the city. As the journalistic voice of the community, the Courier often encouraged its readers to join political campaigns and to vote on issues that affected their lives.
The images in this exhibition offer an unparalleled window into the political world that Harris chronicled. Through his lens we see K. Leroy Irvis, the first African American to serve as speaker of the house in any state legislature, as he casts his vote at a polling precinct in the Fifth Ward in 1962, and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm meeting with supporters from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority a decade later. We also see Republican presidential hopeful Richard Nixon campaigning in the Hill District, and President John F. Kennedy giving a speech in Monessen, Pennsylvania.
For perspective in this election year, we invited three politically involved guest curators to select images for the exhibition: R. Daniel Lavelle, city councilman; Michael Keaton, actor and activist; and Harold Hayes, television news journalist. Their choices reflect the politics of today and contrast them with the political landscape that Harris documented.
The exhibition Teenie Harris Photographs: Elections is on view in the museum’s Lobby Gallery until December 5, 2016. Image credit (top): Charles “Teenie” Harris, Vice President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon greeting crowd from car, including Harold Irwin, Centre Avenue, Hill District, October 1960. Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund.