As World War II roared through history, Charles “Teenie” Harris photographed countless African American soldiers who “fought for a nation that didn’t always fight for them,” states the press release for Teenie Harris Photographs: Service and Sacrifice, an exhibition currently on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) in Pittsburgh, PA. The exhibition is the most recent to be culled from CMOA’s Teenie Harris Archive. It focuses on Harris’s documentation of black soldiers.
Harris (1908-1998) photographed Pittsburgh’s black community for over four decades. His archive of nearly 80,000 images is among the most detailed and intimate records of the black urban experience.
The 25 images in Teenie Harris Photographs: Service and Sacrifice were selected by 90-year-old Master Sergeant Eugene Boyer Jr. and former Staff Sergeant Lance A. Woods in collaboration with Dominique Luster, Teenie Harris Archivist. Boyer and Woods are separated by years of Army service. The images they chose, states the press release, speak to “the honor of military service, and the sacrifices that families of service members make.”
In a video featuring the curators, Boyer says that if you were a black draftee of World War II, in most cases you went to the South for training. The officers were mostly Southern white men picked precisely because of their southern upbringing; it was assumed they knew how to “handle” black men. Boyer says, “There were times when the enemy was nicer than the person who commanded you.”
In a statement, Woods says that while working on the exhibition, he tried to put himself “in the shoes of black patriots who served during the Jim Crow era.” Woods adds, “I questioned how they reconciled their allegiance to America with its long, violent history of subjugating black citizens…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.”
In addition to the 25 documentary-style photographs, a selection of studio portraits featuring soldiers that Harris photographed over the course of his career will be on display. Many of the sitters remain unidentified and are being shown in hopes that visitors may have information about the individuals pictured.
The photographs Harris made of World War II’s service members tell stories of black soldiers fighting for the American promise of civil liberties and the opportunity for a better future.
World War II Veterans from Around the World
Old Soldiers, Former Enemies
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