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
Teenie Harris is perhaps best known for his ability to photograph people and capture their spectrum of expressions as well as truthfully document their life events. He was surrounded by family, friends, and a large community who seemed to be drawn to him and offered their trust to his lens, as well as frequently “photobombed” the margins of his frame while he was on assignment.
But Harris also had a keen eye for architecture and the urban landscape—he was known to have a deep love for the city of Pittsburgh, and at times it seems as if the city itself was another member of his community. His landscape and architectural images show the same intimacy and the deliberate and careful composition that he used when photographing children playing in the street or a family being evicted from their home. Continue reading
When we talk to people who knew Teenie Harris personally we hear the same thing over and over again: Teenie was everywhere, always taking pictures. We asked his family if he ever slept since the other part of taking pictures required long hours in the darkroom. They said he managed to keep on going with his trademark positive energy despite little sleep at times. Then we wondered, what about his down time, did he ever put down the camera? 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.