Institute for Social Renewal

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Not As It Is Written exhibition about Black Pittsburgh launches in Great North Museum

Part of Freedom City 2017, this NISR funded exhibition runs until 1 December in Newcastle City Centre

As the city and university begin to commemorate Freedom City 2017, the year-long tribute to Dr Martin Luther King on the fiftieth anniversary of his honorary doctorate from Newcastle University, we also begin to ponder the message of his speech here, as well as his lifetime of work. To help us reflect on his warnings about the tenacious grip that poverty, racism, and militarism have on our world, NISR and others have supported a new international exhibition now on in Newcastle.  

The exhibition features the African American experience in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, as a case-study of one city grappling with the issues that Dr King fought against.  Curated by history lecturer Ben Houston, the exhibition showcases audio selections of oral histories from people who lived this history, matched with historic photos from framed black photographer Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris of Pittsburgh. By merging voice and image, the exhibition is a meditation on Dr King’s point that both racial law and racial custom conspire to perpetuate racial segregation.  The content treats black resourcefulness, obstacles to black advancement, a range of activist sentiments and the reactions of locals to Dr King’s assassination, among other things.  

The oral histories presented are a tiny subset  of 180 interviews that Houston gathered as director of the Remembering African American Pittsburgh (RAP) project, based at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE). The photos are from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, keeper of the massive Teenie Harris collection which remains one of the finest photographic archives of black urban life in the world.  The NISR grant, supplemented with funding from NUHRI, permitted this exhibition to run simultaneously in two places: 

  • Not As It Is Written: Black Pittsburgh in Voice and Image will run at the Great North Museum: Hancock during Freedom City through 1 December

Additionally, a grant from the ESRC-IAA has permitted the development of a free companion app which not only shows the exhibition in its entirety, but also allows the users to add their feedback and post their reflections via their own photos and audio recordings. 

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published on: 10 October 2017