The Negro League baseball photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris — A Photo Exhibit

July 13th, 2014




harris

In 2004, I had the privilege of interviewing Neil Lanctot, whose history of baseball’s Negro Leagues entitled Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution had just been published.

While preparing for the interview, the work of the noted Pittsburgh Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris came to my attention. Among his many contributions to America’s archives are his photographs of the Negro Leagues, taken during the League’s pre-war and wartime era, mostly in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, where the Pittsburgh Crawfords played many of their games.

With baseball’s All Star Game scheduled for Tuesday evening in Minneapolis, it feels like a good time to revisit some baseball (and American) history, and there is no better way than to view some of Harris’ amazing work.  

With grateful appreciation to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art — who granted us permission to use these historic images — we present a photo gallery of rarely seen Harris photos, along with excerpts from Lanctot’s  Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution.

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Negro League legend Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1942

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“…racial superiority in the field of athletics has contributed  more to race pride than any other single factor in recent years.”  

– Black sociologist Charles S. Johnson, circa 1938

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Unidentified Pittsburgh Crawfords players, Forbes Field, 1944

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“…the caliber of black professional baseball was generally very  high, at least for meaningful official league games.  Most observers  assessed the level of play as comparable to the high minor leagues, not quite  matching the majors because of the widely varying quality of competition  encountered on a day-to-day basis.”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Ted Page of the Pittsburgh Crawfords

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“I think that we have as many good players in our league as they have in the big leagues.  The one big advantage they have is that they  have more men on their teams…As a result, our pitchers are overworked and if our men get hurt they still have to play.”  

– Manager Jim Taylor

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Bobby Williams, Manager, Pittsburgh Crawfords

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“If a youngster was able to withstand the occasionally hostile  reception to his presence, he then had to adapt to an exceptionally competitive  league.  Struggling young players, however, often had no place to turn  for additional instruction or assistance.  Non playing coaches simply  did not fit into the budget of most teams, forcing most rookies to fend for  themselves or seek assistance from an already overburdened manager.  As  Wilmer Harris explained, ‘managers at that time had a tough time,’ as ‘they  were the hitting instructors, they had the job to see if we did something  wrong,’ while also handling financial matters.”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Josh Gibson

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“Dozens of us would make the majors if given the opportunity to  play under the same circumstances as the white.regular schedules, modernized  traveling facilities, with none of these 500 – 800 miles overnight bus hops, and board and lodging at the better spots.”

– Josh Gibson

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Unidentified catcher and batter

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Robert Gaston of the Homestead Grays, 1942

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“…the less conventional and sometimes more exciting style of play simultaneously enhanced the appeal of black baseball.  Moreover,  the personality or ‘color’ perceived as an important player attributed by  both white and black fans was more evident in the Negro Leagues than in white  baseball.”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Unidentified pitcher

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“The stylistic flourishes [of the players]…contributed to a  perception among some observers that black baseball players were somehow  less ‘serious’ than their white counterparts.  The attitude was hardly  surprising, as [Black Metropolis authors] St. Claire Drake and Horace  Cayton similarly cited white Americans’ ‘tendency to view the separate Negro  institutional life with a certain amount of amused condescension and patronizing  curiosity.'”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Cuban baseball player

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“Although unfamiliar with the Negro National League, many individuals  were readily aware of the supposedly ‘comical actions’ of blacks on the playing  field, confirming [journalist] Sam Lacy’s belief that ‘public opinion has  the black ball player labeled as a clown.’  Yet occasional sloppiness  on the field and the absence of the ‘stronger disciplinary presence’ present  in the major leagues also resulted in a downgrading of baseball talent.”  

–  Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Unidentified batters

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“Many black teams and newspapers…received unsolicited correspondence  from youngsters eager to display their abilities in professional baseball.  A 1951 letter from an eighteen-year-old Jacksonville youth offers a  typical example of the genre and includes the common assertion that “I am  a very good ballplayer and I would like for you to see me.”  Lacking  the financial resources to investigate the skills of every potential player,  particularly those residing in distant parts of the south, league teams  realistically had only two options:  either offer the player a tryout  at his own expense or ignore the letters entirely.  In some cases, however, teams willingly gambled on youngsters based on somewhat questionable  evaluations.”  

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

George Walter “Tubby” Scales, Baltimore Elite Giants, Forbes  Field

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“…with the possibilities of better pay as a baseball player than  he could earn in the present set-up in the industrial and professional world,  it is no wonder that the young colored athlete strives to be a star player.  He knows that there may be a chance for him to sign up with one of  the big teams and at least not have to carry baggage, bell-hop, wait tables or fill such positions as are not in hard keeping with the education for  which he has worked so hard.”

– Negro League umpire Bert Gholston

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Unknown catcher, Forbes Field, 1942

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Samuel Howard Bankhead of the Homestead Grays, Forbes Field, 1942

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“Financial limitations…prevented black players from enjoying  the luxury of extensive pre-season preparation.  While many clubs followed  the major league example of journeying south for spring training, black teams  almost immediately began scheduling games to help defray costs, and as the  Grays’ Buck Leonard later explained, ‘no sooner did you pull on your uniform  and crack a sweat than you were in a game before paying customers.'”  

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Vic Harris and Cuban player, Forbes Field, 1941

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“Although progress appeared frustratingly limited, the lifestyle  in black baseball had clearly changed in one important respect:  the  introduction of more generous pay during the war years that allowed black  players, like the African American population as a whole, to better themselves  economically.  Once employed by an industry unable to pay regular salaries  at times, a number of black players received wages comparable to top minor  leaguers by 1946, an unthinkable development only a decade earlier.  Few  realized, however, that the higher salaries would prove a short-lived aberration,  as earnings and living conditions in black baseball would deteriorate in  the 1950s, ultimately reverting to Depression-era quality.”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Unidentified pitcher

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Negro League baseball fans at Forbes Field, 1945

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“…baseball remained a major source of entertainment for blacks  and by far the most popular sport, although boxing’s appeal had dramatically  increased following the rise of Joe Louis.  Commenting on the modest  allure of other sports, Dan Burley observed in 1941 that ‘segments, much, much smaller, follow football, tennis, basketball, track, golf, etc., but  to the great colored public, these sports are Greek.’  Cleveland  sportswriter Bill Finger agreed, contending that ‘we have among us still  a majority to whom sports is baseball.’  To Finger, the phenomenon was  attributable to African Americans’ strong roots in the South, an area ‘where  baseball was the one sport universally entered into by athletes and followers  alike.'”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Satchel Paige, surrounded by fans.  Gus Greenlee’s Pittsburgh  establishment, 1944

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“I might be wrong, but I believe Satchel Paige is the biggest colored  drawing card we have…By that I mean Satchel draws more Negroes to his games  than any other individual we have today…Yep, even more than Joe Louis…any  of our orchestra leaders; our singers, etc.”

– Sportswriter Dan Burley

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee

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“Gus Greenlee is one of my staunchest baseball friends.  If  some of his policies were carried out in the Negro National League baseball  business would be better for everyone concerned.”

– Philadelphia Stars owner Ed Bolden

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Negro League crowd, Forbes Field, 1945

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“With interest and knowledge of baseball unusually high among African  Americans, black professional teams continued to be able to draw upon a broad  cross-section of the population for their attendance.  Weekly baseball  games traditionally functioned as a social event, a place where one could  meet with family and friends in a communal setting.  Not surprisingly, many fans arrived at the games dressed in their best outfits, often donned  earlier in the day for Sunday services.  As Stanley Glenn recalled,  women typically wore ‘high-heeled shoes and silk stockings.  Hats on  their heads and long-sleeved gloves.  And the men came to the ballpark  dressed in suits and shirts and ties.’  Thus, the baseball park, like  church, fulfilled a secondary function:  a chance to be seen in public  looking one’s best.”

– Neil Lanctot

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Sandlot baseball team

“Teenie” Harris photo © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Jackie Robinson, Forbes Field, 1947

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I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask 
is that you respect me as a human being.”

– Jackie Robinson

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Book excerpts from Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, by Neil Lanctot

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“Spirit of Community”  — The Photos of Charles “Teenie” Harris

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Read my interview with Neil Lanctot

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5 comments on “The Negro League baseball photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris — A Photo Exhibit”

  1. Great stuff and never before seen pics of the true kings of the diamond there’s nothing like the Soul of the Game!!!!!

  2. Great stuff and never before seen pics of the true kings of the diamond there’s nothing like the Soul of the Game!!!!!

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