School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Projects

Not As It Is Written exhibition about Black Pittsburgh

We invited the public to share their reactions to Pittsburgh’s historical example and relate it to their present day as part of the ongoing process of social renewal, then and now.

As the city and university began 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 began 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 supported a new international exhibition 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 Dr Ben Houston, the exhibition showcased audio selections of oral histories from people who lived this history, matched with historic photos from famed black photographer Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris of Pittsburgh. By merging voice and image, the exhibition was a meditation on Dr King’s point that both racial law and racial custom conspire to perpetuate racial segregation. The content treated 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 were 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 were 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 at the Great North Museum: Hancock during Freedom City through 1 December.
•Teenie Harris Photographs: In Their Own Voice features at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh from 28 July 2017 to 21 January 2018.

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