100 years of Courier history exhibited

The Senator John Heinz History Center provided an in-depth look at the largest and most influential African-American newspaper of the past 100 years with “America’s Best Weekly: A Century of The Pittsburgh Courier,” a new exhibition that opened on Feb. 11.

Just in time for National Black History Month, the exhibit features rare photos, artifacts, and videos which illustrate The Pittsburgh Courier’s significant impact on social change and American journalism.

PAPERBOYS—Four paperboys stand outside of the Pittsburgh Courier offices on Centre ­Ave­­nue in the Hill District. (Photo courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art)

“The Pittsburgh Courier exhibition embodies the History Center’s mission to focus on American history with a Western Pennsylvania connection,” said Andy Masich, president and CEO of the History Center. “For 100 years, the Courier has served as a voice for African-Americans throughout the nation and its legacy has been felt around the world.”

Founded in 1910, the Pittsburgh Courier evolved from a small start-up publication to the most prominent weekly news source for African-Americans by the 1930s. At the height of its popularity in the 1940s and early ‘50s, the Courier produced 21 national editions for distribution across the globe—all printed at its offices at 2628 Centre Ave. in the Hill District—and was read by more than one million readers each week.

“Through its broad coverage of topics often avoided by the mainstream media, the Pittsburgh Courier shined a light on important issues that affected both Blacks and Whites throughout the nation and beyond,” said Samuel W. Black, curator of the History Center’s African- American collection. “The newspaper’s relentless reporting of African-American culture, especially during times of war, civil unrest, and segregation, is unparalleled.”

Highlights of the America’s Best Weekly exhibition include:

The oldest-known existing copy of The Pittsburgh Courier from Nov. 5, 1910.

A powerful display on the Courier’s coverage of the Civil Rights Movement and war time issues, including a World War I military uniform worn by Captain Donald Jefferson of the 351st Field Artillery, adjacent to a white robe worn by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Highlights from the Courier’s extensive reporting on Black athletes, including the boxing gloves used by Joe Louis in his famous 1938 fight against Max Schmeling, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution. The bout is widely considered to be one of the best boxing matches of the 20th century.

A camera belonging to legendary photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris and a re-creation of the Courier’s newsroom in the 1950s.

A detailed look at the birth of the Pittsburgh Courier, featuring previously unreleased scholarship related to founders Edward N. Harleston and Robert L. Vann.

Artifacts from the Courier’s political coverage of various U.S. presidents and campaigns, including a button from the 1932 Democratic National Convention and a photo signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

America’s Best Weekly: A Century of The Pittsburgh Courier is sponsored in part by The Pittsburgh Foundation, the University of Pittsburgh, the Falk Foundation and the African-American Chamber of Commerce.

(For more information about the exhibit please visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org. To schedule interviews with exhibit curators, contact Ned Schano or Brady Smith.)

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