Documentary traces Courier's influence

It's the year of the Courier. Forty-five years after the original Pittsburgh-based African-American weekly was sold to out-of-town owners, the newspaper is enjoying a flurry of historical attention.

"Newspaper of Record: The Pittsburgh Courier 1907-1965," documentary filmmaker Kenneth Love's chronicle of the newspaper's influential years, receives its first public screening (free) at 7 tonight in Lawrence Hall, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland.

Although the paper was launched in 1907, the release of the documentary marks the 100th anniversary of its takeover by Robert L. Vann, Pitt's first black law school graduate, who built the publication into national prominence.

Mr. Love, who also directed "Saving Fallingwater," an account of the famed house's recent renovation, spent nine years filming the recollections of key Courier staffers including the late Frank Bolden, longtime editor, and Patricia Prattis Jennings whose father, P.L. Prattis, was Mr. Bolden's predecessor.

The film follows the rise of the Courier from its Pittsburgh roots to a national weekly with regional editions coast-to-coast including the Jim Crow South, where it was delivered surreptitiously under the noses of the white power structure.

Courier readers could learn not only the latest efforts in its fight against segregation, but also news of the Negro Baseball League and Pittsburgh's two legendary teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

The newspaper's staff included Pittsburghers Wendell Smith and photographer Teenie Harris as well as major national writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison.

The Sen. John Heinz History Center also marks the centennial of the Vann leadership with a new exhibit to open May 7. The exhibit will focus on the Courier's national campaigns, including its "Double V" effort during World War II to support the war effort abroad and to win more freedom for blacks at home.

Center spokesman Ned Schano said a "number of public programs related to the exhibit" will be announced soon.

Bob Hoover: 412-263-1634 or . First Published March 24, 2010 4:00 AM


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