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…”
K. Chase Patterson and Alma Speed Fox, curators of Teenie Harris Photographs: Civil Rights Perspectives, during a visit to the Teenie Harris Archive at Carnegie Museum of Art in September 2014.
Here at Carnegie Museum of Art we’ve just installed the latest show of Charles “Teenie” Harris’s work in the Lobby Gallery, featuring 25 images on a particular theme as selected by guest curators. The exhibition, Teenie Harris Photographs: Civil Rights Perspectives, is quite special because the theme of civil rights is by far the largest of Harris’s work. He documented not only protest marches and demonstrations, but the meetings held to plan them; integration efforts in education, employment, and the military; African Americans who were the first to hold particular jobs and political roles in Western Pennsylvania; housing discrimination and poor living conditions; injustices in urban redevelopment; and the day-to-day struggles and joys where basic rights were denied or granted. This is the first look into this enormous and important topic of his work.
We were honored to work with guest curators Alma Speed Fox, former Executive Director, Pittsburgh NAACP and founding member and Executive Vice President of Freedom Unlimited, and K. Chase Patterson, President and CEO of Corporate Diversity Associates and Chairman of Centennial Human Rights Dinner, Pittsburgh NAACP. Their conversations about who were in the pictures and what they were doing, were often valuable and vast, and could not possibly fit on a label, such as the passage below about one of Harris’s iconic images from the civil rights movement.
Copy of a photograph of the 1926 Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team. Standing left to right: Nate, co-founder Bill Harris, Harry Beale, Buster Christian, and Jasper Stevens; seated left to right: William Smith, Tootsie Deal, Julius, Whitey Turner, Reese Mosley, Bill Jones, co-founder Charles “Teenie” Harris, and Johnny Moore, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9090 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.
What in time became known as one of the greatest baseball clubs in the world began as a group of black and white Pittsburgh youths playing ball on the sandlots of the Hill. Organized baseball might have been lily-white in the 1920s, but race didn’t count that much on the Hill when it came time to choose up sides for a game. Blacks and whites played together, ate meals at each other’s homes, and often were whipped by both black and white mamas when they got into trouble. The Hill was a racial and ethnic smorgasbord, and pick-up games reflected that variety. As street play became increasingly organized into team competition, however, a sorting out by race occurred. Consequently, sandlot clubs were rarely composed of both black and white players, even though their members might have grown up playing ball together. The Crawfords came out of this interracial mix but became an all-black squad as they moved further away from the streets.
The roots of the Crawfords were in the South and the subsequent migration northward. Bill Harris was born on Christmas day 1909 in Calhoun, Alabama. His parents had met while working as cooks at the local public school, but neither a piece of land nor a job inspecting cars for the railroad was sufficient inducement to resist the lures of the North. The Harrises’ oldest son, Earl, was the first to leave. He moved to Pittsburgh and worked construction jobs. When Earl wrote home that the money was good, the Harris family soon joined him. His father worked construction, too, beginning as a laborer and eventually becoming a pusher, or gang leader. The five Harris brothers held a variety of jobs but became better known for their feats on the diamond, first in Pittsburgh and then across black America.
Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait of Elsa Elliott Harris, her mother Annie M. Elliott, Agnes Elliott, Vann Harris, Lionel Harris, and unknown girl, standing on grass with trees in background, c. 1949, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.24756 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.
The last week of summer has come and gone, and with it go fond memories of warm sunshine and summer activities. I’m certain we’ll all miss the delicious tastes of the season—mouth-watering fruits and vegetables, barbecued meats, or fresh catches from the sea. The smell of sand and surf, fragrant meadows laden with flowers, and long sun-filled evenings spent outdoors are being traded for snuggling on a cozy couch with a great book or TV show. Perhaps you, like many, shared some fun moments with loved ones at family events such as weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, or reunions, enjoying the time seeing old friends and meeting new additions to your circle.
The family of Charles “Teenie” Harris had such a summer event—an annual family reunion. A portion of the festivities were held at Carnegie Museum of Art, which offered the Harris family time to explore the Teenie Harris Archive exhibition, Teenie Harris Photographs: Baseball in Pittsburgh. This collection was curated by Negro League player Josh Gibson’s great grandson—a fellow player and friend of Teenie’s. They also witnessed The Teenie Harris Archive’s contribution to Race: Are We So Different?, an exhibition currently on display at our sister facility the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Charles “Teenie” Harris, Thelma Lovette, Andrea Williams, and Nadine Woodward, gathered at table for Sequoires Tri Hi-Y Club meeting in Centre Avenue YMCA, February 1962, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14910 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.
Another icon of civil rights, equality, women’s advancements, and a mentor of youth has left us in death: Mrs. Thelma Williams Lovette. Born on February 28, 1916, and raised as one of 11 children on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Lovette was modest and demure, but quite spunky, which surprisingly offset her outstanding moral strength and civic duty. She never was one to take the spotlight, which is most evident in the Teenie Harris Archive photos of her (only in several instances did she look directly into his lens), but rather she gave focus to the others with her and to the occasion at which she was being photographed. This subtle observance denotes one of her most honorable qualities—humility. I say one of her qualities, because Mrs. Lovette had many. Continue reading