Chronology of the Life of Teenie Harris
Charles Harris is born on July 2, the third child of William Franklin “Monk” and Ella Mae “Olga” Taliaferro Harris of Pittsburgh. His older brothers are George (b. 1893) and William, known as “Woogie” (b. 1896). George is a relatively prolific amateur photographer, and his uncle William Taliaferro is listed as a professional photographer in city directories and the 1920 and 1930 censuses.
Pittsburgh census lists Olga Harris as divorced, living with her sons and six boarders at 2443 Wylie Avenue, Hill District.
While still a toddler, Harris is nicknamed “Teenie Little Lover,” which will eventually shorten to “Teenie.” A family photograph shows him at age three holding a camera.
Olga Harris and her son George open the Masio Hotel at 1211 Wylie Avenue. It takes in boarders, mainly laborers from the south attracted by jobs in the industrial north; it includes an indoor golf facility and a billiard parlor.
Teenie and/or his older brother George take photographs that will later become the earliest images in the Teenie Harris Archive.
Harris completes the eighth grade at Watt School (now Robert L. Vann Elementary School) in the Hill District. This marks the end of his formal education.
Gus Greenlee opens the Paramount Club next door to the Masio Hotel.
Harris is cofounder and shortstop of the Pittsburgh Crawfords sandlot baseball team. He plays until the late 1920s, when Gus Greenlee acquires the team and turns it into a Negro League powerhouse. Harris also works in the Masio Hotel.
Harris plays on the Paramount A. C. basketball team, later becoming the Hotel Bailey Big Five Team. His father, Monk Harris, is again listed in city directories as part of the family.
Gus Greenlee and Woogie Harris introduce “the numbers” to Pittsburgh and make fortunes; Harris works for them as a numbers runner and chauffeur and remains active in the numbers until the late 1930s.
Harris marries Ruth M. Butler (1910–2003), and their son, Charles A. Harris, is born. They live at Watt Street and Bedford Avenue in the Hill District.
Woogie Harris and Gus Greenlee buy homes in white residential area of Penn Hills; their properties are vandalized. Teenie Harris is listed in the Pittsburgh city directory as chauffeur.
In February, gossip columnist announces Harris is separating from his wife, Ruth; their son, Charles, stays with his father. William Harris, Harris’s father, dies on March 20, and the family closes the Masio Hotel. Teenie Harris and his son move in with Olga Harris at Woogie’s property at 7604 Mulford Street, Homewood, Pittsburgh, which becomes the family home. Harris buys a Packard, the first of a series of luxury automobiles that would become his trademark. Another Woogie Harris property at 7101 Apple Street in Homewood becomes the home of the National Negro Opera Company; it also serves as residence for black athletes and entertainers barred from white hotels until the 1960s. In December, the newly renovated Crawford Grill reopens with fanfare at 1401 Wylie Avenue.
Harris and Ruth Butler Harris divorce. Family trip in September to Chicago World’s Fair is recorded in photographs by Teenie Harris.
Harris plays on the Iron City Elks basketball team, and brings the New York Renaissance and Celtics teams to play in Pittsburgh. He also coaches the Savoy women’s basketball team.
According to published interviews with Harris, Pittsburgh Courier offers Harris position of staff photographer, but he declines due to low pay.
The first issue of Flash Newspicture Magazine is published in March. On October 18, Flash publishes photo of Harris posing with Rolleicord medium-format camera. One week later, on October 25, the first credited Harris photo, of an evening at the Ritz Club, Pittsburgh, appears in Flash. Using $350 given to him by Woogie, Harris opens a photographic studio at 2128 Centre Avenue in the Hill District. He initially names it Flash Studio. The Flash circulation office is nearby at 2132 Centre. November of this year produces the earliest dated Harris negatives in 4 x 5–inch format, probably shot with a Speed Graphic camera that Harris would use until the 1970s.
Harris is listed in the city directory: “Harris Studio (Charles T. Harris), Harry Beale manager, commercial photographers, agency for Flash and Candid Magazine, 2128 Centre Avenue.” The February 5 Pittsburgh Courier publishes uncredited Harris photographs of Lena Horne’s departure from Pittsburgh to Hollywood. The first photo with Harris byline in the Pittsburgh Courier appears May 7 and shows Marva Louis, wife of boxer Joe Louis, at a benefit fashion show. Harris is listed as staff photographer on Flash magazine masthead while freelancing for the Courier. Reporter-photographer Joe Sewell, photographer Alex Rivera, and gossip columnist Julia Bumry also work for both publications. Harris organizes and coaches the Flash basketball team.
Harris Studio listing in city directory advertises “Commercial photographs, portraiture and commercial motion pictures taken and shown.” The last known credited Harris photo is published in Flash in January, and the final issue of Flash appears on August 31.
Publication dates of photography books in Harris’s possession: Photo Tricks and Effects by Jacob Deschin, Tricks for Camera Owners [unknown author], and Filters and Their Uses by W. Bradford Shank.
Harris receives his first known major assignment from the Pittsburgh Courier and travels to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in August and September with reporter Wendell Smith to investigate training conditions for black troops.
Credited Harris photos in the Pittsburgh Courier increase from one or two per issue to four or five per issue, suggesting Harris’s staff photographer position may have started in January. His salary is $35 per week and does not include equipment, supplies, or expenses. Studio work provides most of his income. Jack Strothers works for Harris as studio assistant, possibly in darkroom and on occasional assignments for club images or Courier work.
Pittsburgh Courier sends Harris to Detroit in June to document aftermath of Detroit race riots, after local Courier photographer Langford James is injured by police. In October, Harris travels to Portland, Maine, to document the christening of Liberty Ship SS Robert L. Vann, named for owner of the Pittsburgh Courier.
Harris marries Elsa Lee Elliott (1920–1997) on January 26. They have four children: Ira Vann Harris (b. 1944), Lionel L. Harris (b. 1945), Crystal Harris (b. 1951), and Cheryl A. Harris (b. 1954).
Dewey “Pimpy” Smith works for Harris as studio assistant, possibly in darkroom and on occasional assignments for club images or Courier work.
Harris exhibits his photographs at the First Annual Photographers Show at the Centre Avenue YMCA in February and receives award for his photograph Cotton Candy.
Pittsburgh mayor David Lawrence gives Harris the nickname “One Shot” in appreciation of his efficiency as a news photographer.
Credited Harris photos in the Pittsburgh Courier average over nine images per issue.
Harris’s mother, Ella Mae “Olga” Taliaferro Harris, dies on March 11; Harris and his family continue to live at family home at 7604 Mulford Street, Homewood.
Harris closes the Harris Studio at 2128 Centre Avenue and moves the darkroom to his home.
The first listing appears in Pittsburgh city directories for Harris as “photographer, Pittsburgh Courier.”
Pittsburgh Courier launches “Pittsburghers Speak Up,” a regular column featuring man-on-the-street interviews on current topics accompanied by photographs. Harris will shoot over three thousand street portraits for this column between 1957 and 1977.
Pittsburgh Courier publishes almost ten Harris images per issue in the 1960s.
John H. Sengstacke, publisher of the largest national chain of black newspapers, purchases the bankrupt Pittsburgh Courier, and starts a new corporation to publish the renamed New Pittsburgh Courier. There is no gap in publication. As a result of the bankruptcy, Harris loses his pension. Harris begins more frequent use of a medium-format camera and occasional use of a 35mm camera.
Harris’s brother William “Woogie” Harris dies on October 11, leaving two properties. Ada, his widow, turns the deed to the Mulford Street home over to Harris the next year.
Harris documents meetings of local civil rights and protest organizations and covers marches and demonstrations for the New Pittsburgh Courier.
Harris’s salary from New Pittsburgh Courier is about $100 per week. From 1970 to 1975, the New Pittsburgh Courier publishes an average of four to six Harris images per issue.
New Pittsburgh Courier honors Harris as “Citizen of the Week” for having photographed the black scene over the previous thirty years.
Harris is one of the subjects of He’s a Black Man!, a radio series sponsored by Sears Roebuck that features distinguished black men and women in Pittsburgh. Aired in 1972, the series was followed by an awards banquet in March 1973.
Early to mid-1970s
Harris begins more frequent use of 35mm camera and color film.
Harris retires from the New Pittsburgh Courier but continues to freelance for the newspaper. There is a steep drop in number of published Harris images.
Harris’s brother George Harris dies.
Last known use of a Harris image in the New Pittsburgh Courier occurs on April 23; it depicts a couple celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary.
Harris signs a management agreement and contract with Dennis Morgan, Pittsburgh artist and entrepreneur. Through the urging of University of Pittsburgh sociology professor Rollo Turner, Morgan moves Harris’s negatives to the University of Pittsburgh for safekeeping and study until 1988. The first public exhibition of Harris’s photographs, Blacks in Pittsburgh, 1930–1950: The Crossroads of the World, is organized by Morgan and advised by Turner. It opens in June at the Carl M. Smith Cultural Center, 2161 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, Pittsburgh.
Dennis Morgan starts a commercial operation, which he calls “The Pittsburgh Courier Photographic Archive,” that will sell prints and license images by Harris and several other regional black photographers. After selected Harris images are licensed to Corbis and other digital photo libraries, the work attracts national attention.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission issues a resolution recognizing Harris’s “Outstanding contribution made to the documentation of the African American Community in Pittsburgh.”
Pittsburgh City Councilman Duane Darkins issues a resolution declaring that Harris’s “works are a permanent record of African Americans’ achievements and contribution to mankind.”
Carnegie Museum of Art purchases twenty-seven vintage Harris prints for its exhibition Pittsburgh Revealed and accepts the gift in honor of Rollo Turner of approximately 3,500 vintage Harris prints. The museum hires Harris as a consultant to assist with the catalog of the work. The exhibition Pittsburgh circa 1930–1970: Photographs by Charles “Teenie” Harris opens at the Silver Eye Center for Photography and the Kingsley Center. Harris receives Lifetime Achievement Award from Silver Eye Center for Photography for “photographic contribution to the history of Pittsburgh.” Harris’s wife, Elsa, dies on November 25.
Harris sues Dennis Morgan for noncompliance with their 1986 contract; a lengthy lawsuit spearheaded by lawyer Cindy Kernick and assisted by Donna Dobrick eventually returns the negatives to the photographer’s estate. Along with the Pittsburgh Courier, Harris is awarded the 1997 George Polk Career Award in Journalism from Long Island University. Feature-length documentary about Harris’s life and work, One Shot by Pittsburgh filmmaker Kenneth Love, previews on June 11 at Carnegie Museum of Art. Harris is too ill to attend event. Harris dies in the early morning of June 12. He is buried at Homewood Cemetery on June 16.
The Unsung Hero Award is presented posthumously to Harris by the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses and Museum of Americas.
Harris is recognized with the President’s Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania.
Harris is inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
January 15 is declared “Teenie” Harris Day by the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Harris receives the Spirit of King Award presented by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, The Kingsley Association, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.