There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Asked to name a city that was particularly significant to African-American culture in the mid-20th century, many people would name New York, Chicago, Detroit, or Washington. But Pittsburgh was jumping too, and the surviving work of photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris—some 78,000 negatives—proves it. Born in 1908 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Harris (pictured) began his career in a portrait studio financed by his brother Woogie, a numbers-racket czar and street-level philanthropist. (Woogie and his partner “were our bank,” one Hill District veteran recalls.) In 1931, Teenie began shooting for the Pittsburgh Courier, flagship of the nation’s largest chain of African-American newspapers. For the next 50 years, just about everyone who was important to black culture walked in front of Teenie’s lens: jazz stars Duke Ellington and (Pittsburgh’s own) Billy Eckstine, politicians John F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian Bond, and the players of two great Negro League baseball teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. (Both were native to Pittsburgh, although the latter had dual residency in Washington.) These public figures were captured in “one shot”—because Harris didn’t waste flashbulbs —as were everyday residents of the bustling, working-class Hill District. (“I don’t think he missed a picnic,” says one former associate.) Kenneth Love’s documentary lives up to its title, evoking a large swath of American history while telling the story of one man who got it all on film. It screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at the National Museum of African Art’s Sublevel 2 Lecture Hall, 950 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark Jenkins)