Category Archives: Teenie Harris

Teenie in Quilts


Selection of quilts inspired by Charles “Teenie” Harris’s photograph, “Boy school crossing guard holding back group of children…”

Black and white cloth. Gloves, glasses, and patrol guard belts. Children’s earnest faces. On October 17–20, 2013, the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side displayed the Nia Quilt Guild’s unique project, “A Quilter’s View of the Arts.” The event was sponsored by YMWAHA (Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association) and the concept was for the quiltmakers to respond to challenges representing five distinct art disciplines: painting, dance, spoken word, music, and photography. The Charles “Teenie” Harris portrait (below) of a 1949 school patrol guard, on a street with outstretched arms protecting just under a dozen children, was chosen to represent the photographic arts.


Charles “Teenie” Harris, Boy school crossing guard holding back group of children, including: Donald Christmas, Joann Collins, Elaine Robinson, Kenneth Holiday, Curtis Andrews, Beverly Myers, and Marlene Brown, on corner of Kirkpatrick and Reed Streets with A. Leo Weil School on left in background, Hill District, 1947, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

With clever flair, seven quilters captured their personal interpretation of the photo image, sewn in black, gray, and white cloth, mimicking the black and white photography Mr. Harris is best known for. On some of the works, strips of straight lines depicted the crossing guards belt and street patterns, while on others patterned swirls imitated the children’s posture and energy. One quilt even had small gloves and glasses echoing the guard’s attire. I was quite impressed with them all, but was especially drawn to the quilt of the children’s images copied onto cloth and placed in the silhouette of Teenie’s famous Speed Graphic camera, with which the photo was undoubtedly taken. As quilt artist Joyce Broadus gave me a tour of the quilts, she mentioned that using black and white cloth had been particularly challenging to the seamstresses accustomed to using more color and pattern, but that they eventually found it exciting to bring life to the static palette. I chuckled aloud, however, when informed that one quilter, who didn’t like the lack of color, sewed the back of her piece with bright red circles to depict the vitality of children, and aptly titled her creation, “Don’t Make Me Do Black and White Again!”

Photography illustrated through needle and thread is a refreshing appreciation of the Harris collection. Known for being a very down-to-earth gentleman, Teenie certainly would be thrilled that his work was characterized in such unique fashion, and in support of programs benefiting a popular subject of his lens—youngsters of color. Bravo for an exceptional exhibition!

Vote for Teenie!

Teenie Harris’s 16mm film collection has been nominated as one of Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts as part of the Save Pennsylvania’s Past initiative to protect and preserve the state’s cultural collections. Your vote could help the collection earn the People’s Choice Award, and your donation will directly fund the conservation of Teenie Harris’s film. Vote for before November 1, 2013! You can vote, donate, and share as many times as you like.

But you might be wondering—Teenie Harris also made 16mm films in addition to the 80,000+ photographic negatives that he shot? Why haven’t I seen them? Well, we have not been able to show the film due to its fragile condition. In the 1940s, Teenie Harris used to hang a bed sheet on his garage wall to show films to the neighborhood children. These included popular cartoons, boxing matches, and footage that he shot around the neighborhood and during his travels for work and pleasure.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Two women in front of George Harris’ confectionery shop at 2121 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, Pittsburgh, c. 1940-1955, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.FilmK

So far, we’ve only been able to examine the film without projecting it. Some sections of the film are damaged and becoming increasingly brittle. We would like to repair the film, make a copy, and digitize it so that it may be possible to view online and during exhibitions. What we’ve seen so far is very exciting. Some footage compliments subjects in still photos Teenie Harris took, such as a vacation to Atlantic City, scenes outside his studio and his brother’s confectionary store in the Hill, and Negro League baseball games at Forbes Field.

Other footage is unknown and will require research and assistance from you to help identify it. By donating to the Teenie Harris film collection, you will help save this important part of Harris’s work and help make it visible for all to see.

Teenie Harris, Professional Basketball Player

Photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris was a well-known athlete in his youth long before he earned his moniker of “One Shot.” In the first half of the 1920s, along with Bill Harris (no relation), he founded the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team that would become a Negro League powerhouse. Around the same time, he was developing a reputation as an ace dribbler and fast player on the basketball court, and later as a well-respected team manager and coach. The Pittsburgh Courier newspaper would report weekly details of his actions in the game.

Among the first teams Harris gained his reputation was as captain on the Paramount A. C. basketball team that played in the 1926 city championship. Through the 1920s and early 1930s he played intermittently for the team, including brief stints on rival teams including Holy Cross and Loendi. Paramount A. C. later became the Hotel Bailey Big Five team in whose uniform he’s captured in this image by an unknown photographer.

Copy of a c. 1929–1931 photograph of Charles “Teenie” Harris in Hotel Bailey basketball uniform, with basketball on floor, in studio setting, copy created by Harris c. 1950–1970, Heinz Family Fund

In 1934, he extended his coaching skills to the local Savoy women’s basketball team whose games were described as “fast-paced.” Also at this time, when Harris was in his mid-20s, his career was at its peak with the Iron City Elks team. Chester Washington, in his sports column for the Pittsburgh Courier on March 28, 1936, describes Harris as:

“…the deceptive little scooter and dribbler, a former Paramount A. C. speedster who is not only a sterling little runner if the race grows hot and needs him, but together with Harry Beale handles the managerial reins of the antlered ponies.”

The Iron City Elks completed against teams from the greater western Pennsylvania region, east coast, and fraternities and colleges such as Wilberforce. Through his managerial skills, he was able to bring the New York Renaissance and Celtics teams to play in Pittsburgh. According to his son, Charles A. “Little Teenie” Harris:

“The greatest achievement my dad felt that he had was bringing to Pittsburgh the two best basketball teams in the world from New York—the Renaissance and the Celtics.  He never looked forward to a basketball game as much as he did when the Rens came to town.”

Harris began to get serious about photography in late 1937 and began publishing his images in Washington DC based Flash Newspicture Magazine in 1938. Consequently, he named his next basketball team “Flash.” On February 10, 1938, the New York Renaissance came to Pittsburgh to play the Pittsburgh Pirates basketball team and two days later they played Flash. Flash lost to the New York Renaissance at the Centre Avenue YMCA.

Shortly thereafter he increasingly turned his attention to coaching, including the Centre Avenue YMCA team, and formed a recreational team made up of former professional and college players named “The Old Timers” a few years later. His love of the sport and admiration for the New York Renaissance was passed on to his son. “Little Teenie” formed and captained his own teams which he named “The Rens,” and played on school teams as well.

In 1946, father and son played against each other in what his son humbly described as “basketball 101,” since the youth were so instructed (and beaten 34–22) by their elders.

Teenie’s basketball career declined by the 1950s, when his Old Timer’s team was referred by the Courier as the “’Real’ Old-timers… held together by ankle wraps and lineament.”

Teenie’s first photos in the Pittsburgh Courier?

Spread from Flash Newspicture magazine, February 14, 1938, pages 22–23

Seventy-five years ago today, in 1938, the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper printed pictures of a young Lena Horne (a Pittsburgher at the time) at the Allegheny County Airport as she departed for Hollywood. She spent the hours before at a farewell party in her honor at the Loendi Club in the Hill District. At the airport, her husband Louis Jones, her father Teddy Horne, and friends Woogie and Ada Harris were there to wish her a bon voyage—she had even borrowed a Persian lamb coat from Ada Harris for the trip. Teenie Harris was there the entire time and photographed the young star in broad smiles looking excited and beautiful. Shortly afterwards, the readers of the Courier, the most widely circulated black newspaper in the country, saw these pictures, though without any credit to the photographer. However, we believe that they are possibly the first ones that Harris had published in the Courier.  At the same time, these pictures, along with several others, were published in a two-page spread in the Washington, D.C.-based Flash Newspicture magazine.

Harris had begun contributing images to Flash in the autumn of 1937, about the time he purchased his trademark 4×5 Speed Graphic camera.

Photographer unknown, Charles “Teenie” Harris in front of Flash circulation office, 2132 Centre Avenue, Hill District, c. 1937

By 1938, he was listed on the masthead of Flash as one of the publication’s photographers, and he had opened a photography studio with Harry Beale at 2128 Centre Avenue in the Hill District. Several stories circulate about exactly how, when, and why Harris began to work with the Courier, but he was beginning to make a name for himself as a photographer. Other Pittsburgh Courier staff, including reporter-photographer Joe Sewell, photographer Alex Rivera, and gossip columnist Julia Bumry Jones also contributed to Flash.  Whatever the specific details were (and we would love to know them) about Harris’s early relationship with the Courier, within a few months he was regularly freelancing for the publication. In the May 7, 1938, issue he was finally credited for his picture of Marva Louis, wife of boxer Joe Louis, at a fashion show.

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Marva Louis standing behind artificial palm tree, for Centre Avenue YMCA Junior Hostesses Fashion Revue, April 1938

Harris became a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1941, and continued into the mid- to late 1970s, amassing possibly the largest body of work of a black community by a single photographer in the mid-twentieth century.

Hearing Dr. King’s Speech

August 28, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which he prophetically described as the event that “will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

Many Pittsburghers traveled to the demonstration in Washington D.C. that day, including Sala Udin, who organized a bus full of students on behalf of the NAACP Youth Council of Staten Island, New York (where he was in high school at the time) to attend the historic event.  He described that day during an interview conducted by the staff of the Teenie Harris Archive in 2011:

“We arrived early in the morning, and as the August sun in Washington D.C. got hotter and hotter and hotter, and the day went on, and speaker after speaker… and everybody was really waitin’ for the main keynote speaker of the day, was a man named Dr. King. And when he came out, a quarter of a million people just fell completely silent, and he spoke about what was happening to civil rights workers and people who lived in the south where he had come to Washington D.C. from. And he came with a message to tell Washington that they had given black folks a bad check, and he came to make that check good. I’d never heard anybody speak like that, except maybe Malcolm, in Harlem. And I said to myself, standing right there on the mall in that hot sun, sweatin’ – I said I want to join whatever it is he’s doing – I want to be one of them. And eighteen months later, I was on a bus headed for Mississippi, having been recruited by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and SNCC to come to Mississippi to work on voter registration, integrating schools and lunch counters, and so I had the opportunity to become a Freedom Rider. So that’s how I got involved.”

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

Three years after this influential event, in November of 1966, Dr. King spoke in Pittsburgh where according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he “drew the largest turnout of students ever to hear a visiting speaker” at the University of Pittsburgh’s student union.  Teenie Harris captured several images of the press conference that followed Dr. King’s speech for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper.

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seated behind table with microphone, with Charles Harris and Matthew Moore behind him, at press conference, University of Pittsburgh, November 1966

Hear the full version of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.