The Photographer Who Captured Black Voters for Decades in Pittsburgh - Atlas Obscura
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The Photographer Who Captured Black Voters for Decades in Pittsburgh

The archives of Charles “Teenie” Harris are a treasure trove of political history.

Vice President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon greeting crowd from car, including Harold Irwin, Centre Avenue, Hill District, October 1960.
Vice President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon greeting crowd from car, including Harold Irwin, Centre Avenue, Hill District, October 1960. © Charles "Teenie" Harris/ Courtesy the Carnegie Museum of Art

Throughout the course of his prolific 40-year career, photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris amassed an extraordinary archive consisting of nearly 80,000 negatives. Starting in the 1930s, Harris documented Pittsburgh’s African American community for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s leading African-American newspapers. He captured over 3,000 portraits between 1957 and 1977 for one regular column alone; in the 1960s, almost ten of his images ran per issue of the Pittsburgh Courier

Today, this vast and significant collection, much of which has been digitized online, resides with the Carnegie Museum of Art. Over the years, the Museum invited various curators to stage exhibitions of his work. The most recent focused on performance, and now, with an election looming, Teenie Harris Photographs: Elections highlights Harris’ work chronicling Pittsburgh elections.  

Known as “One Shot” due to his ability to capture his subjects quickly, Harris’ photographs encompass the political process over several decades, including the organization around the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In one photograph, K. Leroy Irvis is captured in a voting booth in 1962. In another, taken ten years later, Shirley Chisholm receives a bouquet from Delta Sigma Theta sorority members.

Atlas Obscura has a selection of images from the exhibition, which runs through to December 5, 2016.

K. Leroy Irvis standing in voting booth for 15th District of Fifth Ward, Pittsburgh, November 1962.

Attorney Byrd Brown shaking hands with basketball player Maurice Lucas wearing championship basketball jacket inscribed “Luke,” outside campaign headquarters for Byrd Brown for Congress, c. 1970.

Linda Starkey handing bouquet to Shirley Chisholm, surrounded by Delta Sigma Theta sorority members, including Christine Jones Fulwiley on left, Vivian Mason Lane, and Marcia Davis, in Loendi Club, March 5, 1972. 

Republican campaign billboard with slogan “Make Our Homes and Streets Safe! Vote Republican” possibly on Morgan Street, Hill District, October 1949.

President John F. Kennedy speaking from podium, with Senator Joseph S. Clark and Pennsylvania Governor David L. Lawrence seated behind him, Monessen, Pennsylvania, October 13, 1962.

Four women, and man wearing ribbon inscribed “Talley worker, Pull the first lever,” gathered around sample voting machine, September-November 1947.

Harry Truman campaigning for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and running mate Estes Kefauver, at intersection of Centre Avenue and Dinwiddie Street, Hill District, October 1956.

Alpha Phi Alpha members, from left: Atty. A. D. Stevenson and Alexander Allen, with officers swearing oaths: George Mason, H. D. McCullough, Dr. R. W. Taylor, Wilbur C. Douglass, Dr. Charles R. Cephas, and Charles H. Cuthbert at Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity house, 3046 Centre Avenue, January - February 1951.

William P. Young speaking before President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Hunt Armory, October 9, 1956.