Category Archives: Teenie Harris Archive

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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Halloween in 1940s Pittsburgh through the Lens of Teenie Harris


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Children wearing Halloween costumes at Bedford Dwellings, October 31, 1941, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6426 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

The caption of this image published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper on November 8, 1941, page 22, reads: “Inclement Weather forced cancellation of outdoor celebrations Halloween night but the Bedford Dwellings party, sponsored by the Parents Commission and the Tenants Council, attracted over 450 costumed kiddies from the Hill area. This was the largest party held in the Dwellings. The above picture shows part of the huge youthful gathering. Harris Photo.”

Bedford Dwellings was among the country’s first housing projects. Built over the former sites of Greenlee Field and Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in the Hill District, it offered safe affordable housing with heat, plumbing, and electricity—necessities that were sometimes lacking from other slum landlord-owned neighborhood buildings. It was also home to a large immigrant population—both African Americans coming up from the South and Europeans seeking jobs in the area industries. In 1941, the buildings were still nearly brand-new and according to the Pittsburgh Courier, out of 800 residents, nearly 400 were children. A large Halloween celebration was planned for them, but the weather did not cooperate—an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that ran on November 1st, stated: “Maybe the witches were riding fire hoses instead of broomsticks, for during the afternoon and evening more than a half inch of rain fell…”

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