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Art & Museums

Teenie Harris turns lens on wartime Pittsburgh in Carnegie Museum exhibit

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, 2:45 p.m.
Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland presents “Teenie Harris: Service and Sacrifice,” which opens Jan. 25 and runs through May 28. The exhibition is the latest from the museum’s Teenie Harris archive, focusing on Harris’ work documenting the experiences of black soldiers.
Charles 'Teenie' Harris, Medic soldier with cross arm band, seated on duffle bag, c. 1930-1950, Carnegie Musuem of Art, Heinz Family Fund
CHARLES "TEENIE" HARRIS
Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland presents “Teenie Harris: Service and Sacrifice,” which opens Jan. 25 and runs through May 28. The exhibition is the latest from the museum’s Teenie Harris archive, focusing on Harris’ work documenting the experiences of black soldiers. Charles 'Teenie' Harris, Medic soldier with cross arm band, seated on duffle bag, c. 1930-1950, Carnegie Musuem of Art, Heinz Family Fund

The latest exhibit from the Carnegie Museum of Art's Teenie Harris Archive, focusing on Harris' work documenting the experiences of black soldiers, opens Jan. 25.

During World War II, Charles "Teenie" Harris photographed thousands of African American soldiers who fought for a nation that didn't always fight for them.

Separated by years of Army service, Master Sergeant Eugene Boyer Jr. and former Staff Sergeant Lance A. Woods have selected 25 Harris images that speak to their experiences — the honor of military service, and the sacrifices that the families of service members make — for the exhibit "Teenie Harris: Service and Sacrifice."

In addition, Harris photographed more than 1,000 soldiers in his studio over the course of his career. Many of these portraits remain unidentified. As part of "Service and Sacrifice," the Teenie Harris Archive will make a selection of images available, and seek information about these individuals.

Harris was one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and his body of work stands as one of the most detailed records of the black urban experience. His photographs of service members, as well as of efforts on the home front, tell stories of black soldiers fighting for the American promise of civil liberties and the opportunity for a better future.

"During World War II, this country was segregated," says Boyer Jr. in a news release. "If you were a black draftee, you in most cases went to the south to be trained in the south. Your officers were mostly white and mostly southern, and they were picked because of their southern background, because it was assumed that they knew how to handle you. There were times the enemy was nicer than the person who commanded you."

Harris preserves the legacy of patriotism in Pittsburgh during a time of visible discrimination, says Woods in a news release. His lens permits us to witness the valor and sacrifice of black women and men in our military.

"Working on this exhibit, I tried to put myself in the shoes of black patriots who served during the Jim Crow era," Woods says. "I questioned whether their sacrifice for America afforded them any of its fundamental protections and promises. I questioned how they endured the indignity of being a 'soldier' abroad but a 'boy' at home. Most of all, I questioned how they reconciled their allegiance to America with its long, violent history of subjugating black citizens.

"Nearly 70 years after President Truman desegregated the armed forces, these questions still cause a personal rift," says Woods. "When loyalties to my heritage and my veteran status threaten to tear me apart, I am empowered by the perseverance and triumphs of black patriots who served before me. Listening to veterans like Mr. Boyle and my grandfather, Sidney Ivory, I learn that my pride in my heritage is not compromised by a willingness to serve my country."

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or jharrop@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.

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