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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pittsburgh Courier Centennial Exhibit

Posted By on Wed, Feb 9, 2011 at 9:39 PM

I joined this morning's press preview of America's Best Weekly: A Century of the Pittsburgh Courier, which opens to the public Friday at the Heinz History Center. Much of it wasn't installed yet, but a tour led by curator Sam Black suggests the show will provide plenty for folks interested in African-American history inside Pittsburgh and out, and amateur historians and newbies alike.

The show grew from a 2005 meeting between Black, the Center's curator of African-American Collections, and representatives of The New Pittsburgh Courier, corporate descendant of the original, who wanted help managing the publication's archive. 

The exhibit on the pioneering African-American newspaper covers some familiar territory, including its crusading role in the anti-lynching campaign and the civil-rights movement, and other aspects of its national reach. 

But America's Best Weekly also touches on such little-remembered episodes as the paper's coverage of the Ethiopian-Italian War, in the 1930s: The paper sent a correspondent, with some resultant growth in pan-African solidarity. There's also a display about the paper's backing of Republican Wendell Wilkie for president, in 1940, against FDR.

Notable artifacts include a large-scale reproduction of photo of a 1920 Ku Klux Klan march ... in Wilkinsburg. The sports display boasts a pair of Joe Louis's boxing gloves -- from his 1936 fight with Max Schmeling, the one Louis lost. (Louis's Courier connections frequently brought him to Pittsburgh.)

Still, among displays available for preview, the most fascinating for me was the paper's oldest extant front page. Vol. 46 of the Courier ("Five Cents"), from late 1910, wasn't the paper's first. But its headlines speak eloquently of both another time and the paper's origins among members of middle-class black social clubs (folks like co-founder Earl Harlston, a former funeral-home owner who moved here from Atlantic City).

Headlines like "Young Lawyer's Fine Record," "Presbyterian Council Meets" and "Current Topics in Washington / Lively interest taken in many matters of public importance / Social scene approaching" stand next to "Atlanta, GA Whites Attempt to Restrict Colored Persons to Certain District."

And the motto on No. 46's masthead (in the years before the famous and proud "America's Best Weekly" slogan) might have been penned by Booker T. Washington: "Work, Integrity, Tact, Temperance, Prudence, Courage, Faith."

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