In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Teenie Harris Archive invited women whose father and/or mother were integrally involved with the local civil rights movement, to reflect on their personal experiences living with such involved parents. Knowing that a public figure lets their hair down at home, so to speak, prompted the question: What was it like to grow up with a civil rights leader? Teenie Harris often photographed these dynamic men and women—parents of a proud generation of women.
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.
“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.
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.
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