Category Archives: Teenie Harris Archive

Teenie Harris: The Lens That Rescued the Legacy


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A Man and His Dog, Lower Hill District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, c. 1981. Photograph by Mark Clayton Southers, taken during his tenure as chief photographer at the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Iconic Pittsburgh Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris rescued the broken oral tradition of our African ancestors through his magnificent and captivating photographic images. I’m quite sure that innately he knew that it was his duty to perform these tasks. I’m assuming subconsciously he knew this; however, I’m not so sure he could have imagined his work’s magnitude. We are often unaware that history is being made by our everyday actions. That’s one of the most beautiful things about being a photojournalist. As a photojournalist, your job is to capture moments in time to tell the story at hand. However the work you do puts a time stamp on moments in life for all of eternity. From the perspective of one who has enjoyed that very same position during the eighties and early nineties, I can honestly say that it was a great honor and privilege to be part of our African American community in such an intimate way.

Mr. Harris had the nickname “One Shot Teenie” for a reason. Whereas the modern-day photographer can zip off multiple frames per second, and occasionally use a flash, they’re not faced with the task of  popping a very hot flash bulb out of their camera, catching it, and putting it in their pocket all while covering an event like Mr. Harris. Positioning himself to get that one great shot took a tremendous amount of skill and great timing. Pre-digital newspaper photographers were caught up in the daily ritual of running from assignment to assignment, press conferences, churches, schools, and city hall, all while zipping in and out of the darkroom, mixing chemicals, D 76, Dektol, and many others. I view this aspect of their daily grind as photographers as the lost art of developing film by hand. During that time, we were adept at being low level chemists and time management experts. Taking a picture on your smart phone these days pretty much demonstrates just how far we have come technologically and artistically.

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The Chronicle of Alma Speed Fox


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait from left: C. Dolores Tucker, Alma Speed Fox presenting “Daisy Lampkin Award” bowl to Wilhelmina Byrd Brown and Mary Gloster at Women’s Auxiliary of NAACP dinner dance at the Roosevelt Hotel, February 1967. Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund.

When I agreed to write this essay, I knew it had to center around a conversation with Teenie Harris Photographs: Civil Rights Perspectives guest curator Alma Speed Fox. At 91 years old, she’s fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights for over 75 years.

Alma was a friend of my grandmother, Georgetta Holmes Stevens, aka “Big George.” And she’s my uncle Tim Stevens’s “Civil Rights Mother.”

I remember her attending one of my Big George oral history readings. I told a story about my grandmother inspecting my elbows to make sure I was using lotion regularly. Alma shared how back in the day, after making lemonade, black women sat their elbows in the lemon peels to lighten them. It was the only time you were allowed to put your elbows on the table.

But I’d never talked one-on-one with Alma. When she agreed to talk with me, she asked a rhetorical question: “Why, after all this work, haven’t black people come further?” Before I could answer, Alma asked if I’d heard of Derrick Bell.

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Effect in Pittsburgh and Beyond


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Loran Mann, Charles Harris, Matthew Moore, and Tom McGarrity at press conference, University of Pittsburgh, November 1966. Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund.

Yesterday the nation celebrated the birth of a King—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The greatness of this man’s plight—equality for all people—and the parade of non-violent demonstrations and negotiations, culminating with his detestable assassination, cemented his martyrdom in the annals of history. He was intelligent, courageous, selfless, and seemingly tireless, but also by some reports, lonely at times. Although he was at the top of a very large heap of nationwide civil rights workers, a summit can be a lonely pinnacle, but this King was never alone because men of his stature rarely make the climb to greatness by themselves. There were armies of workers, in every town and municipality across the nation, struggling for equal employment, fair wages, voting rights, adequate housing, and medical care. Most were rarely visible, but their dedication was dynamic nonetheless. Dr. King came to speak for those who had no voice, or those whose cries were not being heard. King stood up for those who were too weary to fight, from being continually knocked down.

When most people think of civil rights their immediate thought is most often of Dr. King at the historic 1963 March on Washington, and the delivery of his “I have a dream” speech. The eloquence of his heartfelt oration stirred an already brewing nation, not only in the conversation of human rights, but for black America, the day-to-day realities of how the struggle affected their lives. What is muddled in this stoic recollection on the national mall are the lieutenants of the cause standing with King—Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer, and many more. These men lead local and national groups such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), The Urban League, SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), and many more. Without their support, national awareness of King—the eloquent and brave southern minister—might not have occurred.

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What’s That under Teenie’s Christmas Tree?


36887_1200pWhile there are a number of images of Teenie Harris’s family events in the collection, there are just a few without people in them. One December in the late 1940s or early 1950s, he took a picture of their Christmas tree in a corner of his living room. The room is dim and cozy, the tree is lit, and the presents beneath opened and in slight disarray (pictured above).

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In Gratitude: The Unsung Heroes of the Teenie Harris Archive


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Hubert Ivey, Father John LaBauve, Roland Sawyer, Henry Musamali, Pater Kanari, and James McVoy posed in Loendi Club for an NAACP Young Adult meeting, March 1962, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.17341 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

“I can remember this day like it was yesterday. It had been really hot that summer, but we were still just as proud as can be to be in that parade.” –Museum guard

“Hey, that’s my brother Kenny in that one….ha, ha–look at him”. –Museum custodial staff

“Yeah, that’s my mom and dad at a Frog’s event”.  –Gift shop supervisor

“Wow….I never saw this before. And I was right there–wow!” –Museum guard

Museum patrons stop to observe the Charles “Teenie” Harris photographs for many reasons. Perhaps it’s the various historical subjects it reveals. Or maybe it’s the beautiful women in his photography. Or it could be that the image is just so interesting to view. However, for many staff members of the Carnegie Museum who grew up just a few miles away, they might being seeing a friend, a relative, or even themselves in familiar local settings. The fact is if it weren’t for the information that has been supplied from museum employees, we would still be very much in the dark about the true identity of many people, places, organizations, and customs found in the close to 80,000 images in the Teenie Harris Archive. Casual conversations with guards, custodians, restaurant, and gift shop employees has led to imperative clarification of the collections data. Thus, as we prepare for each new Teenie exhibition or research new ID’s, one of my most important steps is to pass through the museum corridors and search for clarification from some of the most well-versed contributors to the Teenie Harris Archive—museum staff.

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