Let's Learn From the Past: The Pittsburgh Courier

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From its headquarters in the Hill District, The Pittsburgh Courier evolved from a small startup publication to the largest and most influential African-American newspaper of the past 100 years.

The paper was founded in 1910 by Edward N. Harleston to give African-Americans an outlet to voice their opinions on issues most important to them. Businessman and lawyer Robert L. Vann joined the Courier in 1910 and became editor, a position he held until his death in 1940.

Vann built the Courier into a successful newspaper by hiring gifted editors, reporters and photographers -- such as legendary Pittsburgher Charles "Teenie" Harris -- to deliver the highest quality journalism to its readers.

The newspaper's earliest editions focused on prominent issues in Pittsburgh's black community, including housing, employment and education. The Courier eventually developed a larger audience by covering topics that the mainstream media refused to pay attention to at the time.

The Courier became one of the first publications in the nation to extensively cover black athletes. Its coverage of Negro League baseball, college football and promising young African-American boxers such as Joe Louis was unparalleled.

The Courier was also a national leader in covering African-American culture during war time and the civil rights movement. During World War II, the Courier established the "Double V" campaign, pushing for equality at home and democracy abroad. The campaign demanded that African-Americans who were risking their lives abroad receive full citizenship rights at home.

At the height of its popularity in the 1950s, the Courier produced 21 national editions for distribution across the globe -- all printed at its offices at 2628 Centre Ave. in the Hill District -- and was read by more than 1 million readers each week.

The paper fell on hard financial times in the 1960s and was reborn as the New Pittsburgh Courier in 1966. The publication continues to serve as a respected and consistent voice for African-Americans in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For more than 100 years, the paper has never missed a week of publication.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center can journey through 250 years of African-American history with the award-winning exhibition, "From Slavery to Freedom." Several new features have recently been added to the long-term exhibit. Information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org.


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