On a sunny July afternoon in 2011, I had the privilege of going to the home of William G. Nunn Jr. and Frances Bell Nunn, to interview them for the Teenie Harris Archive’s oral histories. I had known them casually in my childhood, but as their front door opened two impressions hit me: 1) Here were some of Pittsburgh’s finest African American citizens, and (2) how much they seemed to still be in love. They greeted me, together, with big smiles and we shared a warm, informative afternoon full of both serious discussion and rich laughter. Continue reading
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.
The Rev. Donald McIlvane, a retired Roman Catholic priest and staunch ally to the underserved, passed away February 16, 2014. Father McIlvane was not only a worldwide religious leader, but unquestionably, a compassionate Civil Rights soldier, as well. Although Rev. McIlvane was an unlikely candidate to become a radical priest, having come from a well-to-do family, he served and lived alongside the needy, suffering many similar life experiences, even to the point of being mugged.
He was once quoted as saying “Martin Luther King had more influence on me than any leader in my life.” In fact he was so influenced by Dr. King, that he joined him in Civil Rights protests nationwide. His human rights efforts spanned six decades, including monitoring South Africa’s post-apartheid election, to which Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected leader.
Here in Pittsburgh, Rev. McIlvane was often seen in his clerical collar, taking part in meetings, hearings, rallies, or protest marches—all in the quest for human rights. On a personal note, I knew Father McIlvane as a youngster. I remember how diligently he worked beside my father and other local Civil Rights leaders. He impressed me as a person who would do anything to see that justice was given to everyone, be they young, old, white, black, rich or poor—he loved all people, and they felt that from him. Teenie Harris captures the essence of this dedicated servant in these dynamic photographs.
Batter up! With this familiar phrase, the Teenie Harris Archive of the Carnegie Museum of Art is proud to announce the opening of our new exhibition, Teenie Harris Photographs: Baseball in Pittsburgh, March 22–September 22, 2014. Those of us who’ve struggled through a tough winter are especially anxious to hear those words, because with baseball season starting on the same date, warm weather will not be far behind. Nor will terms such as “wild pitch,” “no-hitter,” and “squeeze play.”
The Teenie Harris Archive includes approximately 667 baseball images. The new exhibition will feature 25 highlights from the archive, including images of the Negro League teams such as the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, and the show is guest curated by Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Crawford and Grays player Josh Gibson. Also featured will be Major League Baseball greats Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Donn Clendenon, Roy Campanella, Curt Roberts, Ted Williams, and Minnie Minoso, among many others. Teenie Harris himself was a co-founder and shortstop for the Crawfords when they were known as the Crawford Colored Giants. We also include photos of Little League teams, women’s teams, managers, umpires, and everyday folks attempting their own grand slams.
If you’re like me, you think of baseball season with delight. I often laugh to myself remembering George Carlin’s famous description of baseball as a happier sport than most others—the wearing of “caps” vs. helmets, that you’re always “up” at bat vs. asking “what down is it?”, that it has no time limit, and that baseball’s objective is to “go home” and “be safe”! As he describes a “kind of picnic feeling” you get while sitting in the stands, I’m reminded of my own sunny summer days spent at Forbes Field. My little legs would burn in the sun, but I didn’t mind a bit, because I had my bag of roasted peanuts and cold soda pop to enjoy the game. My Dad would cheer on his beloved Pirates, and we’d enjoy a day filled with him explaining base hits and double plays.
To whet your appetite for the kinds of images you’ll see at the exhibition, here are just a few of the many baseball-related photos Teenie took all over the Pittsburgh area.
Selections from the Teenie Harris Archive are sometimes shared with the public in unexpected ways. This week we highlight the photos currently displayed in the recently opened SHOP ‘n SAVE market, in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Seeing Teenie Harris images as you gather your groceries along the aisles of the new structure ties the past to the present in comfortable style. For those of us who grew up in the Hill District during Teenie’s prime, it was an all too common occurrence to bump into him taking photos on assignment for the Pittsburgh Courier, capturing newsworthy moments, entertainment, sports, social events, or personal portraits. And quite often, while you were shopping, as well.
When I was a youngster in the early 1960s, milk was delivered daily to your doorstep by the milkman, dressed all in white clothing. In addition, your local huckster stopped by your block several times a week with fresh produce and meat. To my delight, while browsing through the Archive several years ago, I happened to find a photo Teenie captured of the huckster (Phil Argento) I anxiously waited for several times a week as a little girl. This curbside shopping was accompanied by the small grocery stores that occupied many street corners in the neighborhood. But we also would take a trip to the big grocery chain store, which was at that time considered a far drive—about a mile or so away. At the big market we could indulge in fancy cheeses, unique produce like pineapples flown in from Florida, or California oranges. And my personal favorite—red Faygo soda pop—it was my treat if I behaved properly while on the shopping excursion. In those days, you wore nice clothes and perhaps even white gloves, and gentlemen helped you push your cart out of the store, even placing the bags in your car.
Times have obviously changed, and the Hill District, like all the other neighborhoods, lost their hucksters and milkmen long ago. But sadly even the large grocery chain lying within a close distance had disappeared for way too long. With the opening of the new SHOP ‘n SAVE, it offers easier access to the Hill residents, especially for those who must tote their packages on public transportation or pay for jitneys or other cab services. How appropriate that some of its native son’s photos are now hanging in this particular store. I think about how often Teenie was seen shooting photos in the very spot where the store sits today, and all along Centre Avenue where his studio once existed. And how awesome it is that his photos of a streetcar on Herron Avenue, jazz musicians, children crossing the street from school or eating a humble meal, and a former store of the 15219 area code were selected to tie two centuries together. Having known Teenie, I would venture to say he would be proud, not particularly because of how artistically (in fact) he captured such scenes, but more so that the Hill District now had a place to call its own, once again.