Socially correct: On the shoulders of giants

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The Lifestyles section of the Pittsburgh Courier has always been a vital part of the newspaper. With both a local and national presence, lifestyles writers had their work cut out for them. Joan James of Moon Township says, “I remember the Lifestyles editors Toki Schalk Johnson, Hazel Garland and Jean Farrish very well. Along with a photographer, they covered all the social and civic events in the Pittsburgh African-American community. They were precise in their writing and very descriptive of the events and the persons attending. They were also very personable. I never saw them take a note but they got the facts right. I never knew how they did it. They would go anywhere for a story. I remember Jean Farrish coming to my home in Moon Township to do an interview with Gordon Parks he was charming and spent an hour with her which she loved.”

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TOKI JOHNSON

“In notable ‘Black American Women,’ the late Frank Bolden said without Hazel Garland, the New Pittsburgh Courier would have folded, in that period after (John) Sengstake came in (1966). Under her, it became a better prepared product. She didn’t appreciate making mediocrity respectable. Garland was one of the top two women in journalism the other being Ethel Payne of the Chicago Defender. When asked to advise, the young Garland would say, we must always have the 3 D’s, desire, determination and dedication. We must not let anything turn us aside. And to be truly successful we must always reach back and try to lift someone else as we climb.”

Garland joined the Courier in 1943 and moved rapidly through ranks, becoming one of the most popular writers in the city and the country. Even though Johnson handled most of the national social affairs, Garland handled the local but also traveled with other writers to add a social touch to sporting, entertainment and news stories. She crossed from the Courier to the New Pittsburgh Courier and even though she continued to write her two columns, Things to Talk About and Video Vignettes, two of the most popular columns in the paper’s history, she crossed over to news as the city editor in 1972 and editor-in-chief in 1974 before retiring in 1977.

Mattie Trent, the Religious and Lifestyles editor of the Courier for more than 15 years began writing verse at an early age. Occasionally, some of her poetry was printed in the New Pittsburgh Courier. She sang in the gospel chorus, senior choir, taught adult sunday school class, served on the Trustee Board at St. Mark Wilkinsburg and was a member of the St. James AME Lay Organization. Annually, The Mattie Trent Christian Talent Show is held in her honor. Trent served in many capacities until her death in 1987.

The Lifestyles and Religious writers of the Pittsburgh Courier and New Pittsburgh Courier were busy women. Toki Schalk Johnson was one of the charter members of the Girlfriends and vice president. The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Girlfriends sponsored the Cleveland Chapter in 1951 and the Pittsburgh Courier contributed greatly to their story on the national level. Jean Farrish loved the social scene. The New Pittsburgh Courier’s Managing Editor Ulish Carter says she was a no nonsense writer. Even though she covered the social scene, she took her job very seriously. After her retirement in 2001, she continued to write her column Triangle Topics covering social, political and human interest issues addressing the city of Pittsburgh. Farrish passed Dec. 30, 2003.

The Organizations

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DEBBIE NORRELL

There are plenty of organizations in Pittsburgh to fill the calendar of a Lifestyles editor and numerous photographers. These groups come with rich histories and know how to put the fun in fundraising and throw a fabulous party all while making contributions to scholarships and charitable organizations. Many of the groups that are covered by the Courier have celebrating 100 years or are very close to their centennial celebrations. Our very own Lifestyles writers were a part of many of these groups in various capacities. The Pittsburgh Links, founded on Dec. 5, 1948 by Jesse Vann, Courier president; and Daisy L. Lampkin, Courier vice president, is a chapter of a national service organization of African-American wo­men dedicated to improving the lives of others through education, the arts, and service to youths through national and international trends and services. The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Girlfriends became the tenth chapter in 1947. The membership still looks forward to events that capitalize on the reason for their founding an opportunity to be social—to be just good girlfriends. Northeasters Inc. is a social organization of prominent African-American wo­men founded in 1930. The Pittsburgh Chapter was founded in 1946. They are primarily a social organization but have given thousands of dollars in scholarships and support vital non-profit organizations in their communities. Charms, Jack and Jill of Pittsburgh are chapters of a national organization founded in 1938 by a group of concerned Black mothers. There were women who envisioned an organization that would provide their children with support in a society that viewed them as incapable and inferior. The Charms (formerly the Squaws), Decks—a purely social club where only pinochle is played. They organized in 1950 and just celebrated 60 years. The FROGS (Friendly Rivalry Often Generates Success) just celebrated one hundred years and the primary purpose of the organization is to have fun. The FROGS are famous for their annual FROGS week of fun. Pittsburgh boasts a chapter of all national fraternities and sororities: Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Zeta Phi Beta. They alone can keep a Lifestyles writer busy covering luncheons, teas and themed parties. The list of organizations is rounded out by the Urban League, the NAACP, Urban League Guild, Kappa Silhouettes, Alpha Wives, Harriet Tubman Guild, the Pittsburgh Club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club and the many chapters of Eastern Stars and Masons. These groups are creative in their planning of events and loyal to the New Pittsburgh Courier.

One thing that should be noted about these social clubs is that these are not just people out to have a good time drinking and smoking while hanging out. They are made up of professional hard working people. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, nurses, every possible profession is represented. They form these social clubs in most cases as a break from the stressful week of work, many times b
eing the only Black face in their offices, after work they wanted to socialize with  other Black professionals, with similar interests.

The Venues

Pittsburgh’s African-American social and civic scene is as busy as ever. Some of the venues have changed but in a city where many complain, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, one can be overwhelmed with the amount of events to cover. There are new venues and old venues with new names. It can be confusing to determine which hotel you are heading to. For instance, we now have two Double Tree Hotels. The old Ramada in Monroeville is a Double Tree as well as the former Ramada near the Civic Arena. Yes the Civic Arena that was the Mellon Arena until the completion of the Consol Energy Center. The Double Tree that was the Vista is now the Westin Convention Center Hotel and the Westin William Penn is  now the Omni William Penn. Sometimes it is best to get clarity before heading to an event. The Hilton name has been removed and the former Hilton is waiting for new signage. The Fairmount Hotel on Fifth Avenue is a beautiful new venue and recently hosted the Physician of the Year Award for Gateway Medical Society. The Syria Mosque in Oakland was demolished and the stately lions that sat out front for decades were shipped to Cheswick to watch over the new Syria Mosque. Rodef Shalom Synagogue has become a popular venue for dinner dances and Mother’s Day teas. Montage is a unique and eclectic venue for smaller parities while many groups look to Heinz Field and PNC Park to hold their galas since the Allegheny Club at Three Rivers is history. Back in the day there was the Loendi Club, and the Twin Coaches.

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WILLA MAE RICE
Religious Writer 1960s-1970s

Fashion shows used to take place on the eleventh floor of Kaufmann’s. But Kaufmann’s is no longer Kaufmann’s, it is now Macy’s. The Ebony Fashion Fair, the fashion show that was covered by the Courier for more than 40 years, is now only a memory. For many years the famous show took place at the Syria Mosque, then the Hilton, Heinz Hall and the Byham Theatre. Many groups favor the venues in Oakland such as the PAA Club and the Twentieth Century Club. There is no shortage of venues. The museums, art galleries and the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum are used as places to host many events. If you can’t find a venue pitching a beautiful tent on a parking lot can always work. The August Wilson Center for African American Culture has become a popular venue.

From where I sit I turned in my first Lifestyles story to the New Pittsburgh Courier on February, 2001. I hope to be there another 10 years. Covering the Pittsburgh civic and social scene has been a blast. My evenings and weekends are full of teas, luncheons, soirees, fashion shows and galas. In order to cover the social scene in the city of Three Rivers you need a varied wardrobe, good transportation, a GPS and a clear schedule. If you have a significant other he has to be patient and like to party. There are so many events to cover. Many are annual and you can predict when they will take place. There are many new groups having galas while the veteran groups are still going strong. It is not unusual for me to attend more than three events on one day. If you have a life of your own it often takes a back seat. During this decade I have honed my photography skills and 90 percent of the time I take my own photos. In research for this story I looked at my personal archives, I never would have dreamed that I would be sitting in the seat of such great ladies who have shaped the (Women, Society) Life­styles pages of our historic newspaper. I have had so much fun. I’ve rubbed elbows with the rich and famous while attending just about every event in the city. Even if it is only for a moment I can peek in, take a few photos and see all of the beautiful people and feature them in the New Pittsburgh Courier. What a life.

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