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Funding secures region’s black history

By David M. Brown
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A 1950s print of Herron Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District is among of 750,000 images from the New Pittsburgh Courier archives.

They are snapshots from Pittsburgh’s past.

Black troops return home from World War II and march down Wylie Avenue in the Hill District. Downtown protesters call for an end to segregation at city pools. A baseball player signs with the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.

The photographs are part of a Pittsburgh Courier archive of more than 750,000 images being preserved and protected in a project to make them available for research, education and public display. The nonprofit group Pittsburgh Courier Images on Tuesday received a $150,000 federal grant to get the effort started.

“The upshot of this is about sharing this treasure,” said Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier. “This is not just a Pittsburgh treasure; it’s a U.S. treasure.”

Opening the archive creates a rare portal into nearly a century of black history in this region and the nation, Doss said. The newspaper is “honored to be the keeper of what is an incredible and extensive record” of black history throughout the 20th century, he said.

At its peak, the Courier was the most widely circulated black newspaper in the United States. It published 21 regional editions across the country and a national edition.

The newspaper will mark its 100th anniversary in 2010.

The archive includes shots by about 250 photographers of black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Sen. Adam Clayton Powell; highlights of the civil rights movement such as the “Little Rock Nine” integrating classes at Central High in Little Rock, Ark.; jazz, blues and classical musicians such as Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Billy Eckstine; famous sports figures; and thousands of scenes from everyday life in black communities.

“This money is a good foundation for us to start to assess and organize the collection,” said Laura S. Horner of Edgewood, project director for Pittsburgh Courier Images.

More than 60,000 of the photos were shot by legendary photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris for the Courier between 1936 and 1975.

In celebration of Black History Month, some of Harris’ work was on display last night at the City-County Building, Downtown. Born in Pittsburgh in 1908, Harris died in 1998.

The grant was obtained through the U.S. Department of Interior’s Save America’s Treasures Program.

The archive provides “valuable documentation of the history of the momentous struggle for racial equality in our country,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, who helped to secure the grant.

David M. Brown can be reached at or 412-380-5614.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633