Vintage Photos of Pittsburgh Life in the ’40s

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As a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, Charles “Teenie” Harris amassed one of the biggest visual documents of 20th century African American experience. With equal passion, he snapped candid shots of celebrities like Lena Horne and JFK and documented everyday occurrences in the thriving communities of the industrial city, at the time when a civil rights boycott as much part of life as a boxing match. The Pittsburgh Carnegie Museum of Art is currently exhibiting 1,000 of Teenie’s photographs as projections accompanied by an original jazz soundtrack from 73,000 cataloged and digitized artifacts in their library, through April 7, 2012. Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story is the first major retrospective of the city legend, spanning from the ’30s through the ’70s. See a few of his mid-century shots in our gallery, featuring glamorous gals framed by steel mill smokestacks and Eartha Kitt leaping through a community event poster.

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Boxers, possibly Golden Gloves contenders, lined up in boxing ring, c. 1955. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Woman seated on car, with steel mill in background, c. 1940–1946. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Eartha Kitt leaping though poster to launch a Citizens Committee on Hill District Renewal program, with police officer Harvey Adams, Vine and Colwell Streets, Hill District, May 1966. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Herron Avenue at intersection of Milwaukee Street, Hill District, c. 1938–1945. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Frank Bolden at left and Sarah Vaughan at right, with another woman and man at piano, c. 1950. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Lena Horne reflected in mirror in dressing room at Stanley Theatre, c. 1944. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Protesters with UNPC signs outside United Mine Safety Appliance Company, Braddock Avenue, Homewood, October 1963. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Girl reading comic book in newsstand, c. 1940–1945. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Portrait of male dancer in exotic feathered costume, in reclining pose against curtain, in Harris Studio, c. 1940-1945. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Three women, one wearing dark sweater with two daschund appliques, posed around a suitcase in front of brick building c. 1938-1945. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Seven members of the Physical Activities Department of the YMCA wearing shorts and metallic paint, preparing for tug of war exhibition on stage for anniversary celebration April 26, 1945. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Group portrait of women, possibly including Ruth Gwynnon on far right, many wearing military uniforms, posed behind booth with sign reading “Back the Attack – Buy Bonds,” and van from Ann Street Radio, Homestead c. 1940-1945. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. The Checkers Players, 1949. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. LGBT club. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Photo credit: Charles “Teenie” Harris. Children hugging. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh