In 1909, Robert L. Vann became the first African-American graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Little did he know that more than 100 years later, his alma mater would celebrate his accomplishments as the editor and publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier and the legacy his newspaper has sustained over the years.
|COURIER, PITT HEADS—Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Rod Doss and Robert Hill.
As part of Pitt’s annual K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program, special guests were given a preview of the newest exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center. “America’s Best Weekly: A Century of The Pittsburgh Courier,” serves as one of the final events in the yearlong celebration of the Courier’s centennial anniversary.
“This is of course an exhibition of impact that will provide people with the sense of influence. It’s really impossible to measure the impact,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. “If people are committed, progress is possible and progress can be fueled in a wide range of ways.”
There is a long history of connections between Pitt and the Courier as several Courier employees were either Pitt graduates or former Pitt faculty and staff. Some of them, including George Barber, Frank Bolden, Earl Hord, Edna Chapelle McKenzie and Eric Singer, were showcased in the exhibit.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity because this history is so important. It illuminates what we as a people have contributed to society,” said Robert Hill, Pitt’s vice-chancellor for public affairs. “The Courier and the University of Pittsburgh have always had a wonderful partnership.”
At the height of its circulation, the Courier most likely employed more African-Americans than any other Black-owned business in the nation. With more than 21 different editions and correspondents throughout the country it provided opportunities for African-Americans coast to coast.
“America’s Best Weekly was a real challenge for me to look at what was most important for the New Pittsburgh Courier and its legacy,” said Sam Black, the exhibition’s curator. “The Courier was a very important business in the Black community not just for being a newspaper but a caretaker for Black advancement as well.”
Black’s work on the exhibition began five years ago when he first approached the Courier with his idea. Half a decade later and after a slew of Courier celebrations and exhibits over the past year, his exhibit takes a different approach to the history of the Courier, highlighting its impact as an African-American business.
Pitt’s annual Black history month celebration began in 2004 and was renamed for Irvis in 2008. Irvis was a legendary Pennsylvania legislative leader and Pitt alumnus and trustee.
“For several years now the University of Pittsburgh has presented the K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program, a series of special presentations that have greatly enriched our lives by showcasing unique local African-American institutions, individual achievements and celebrating those who changed a nation; all in the name of a giant of a man whose accomplishments are still being felt across this commonwealth—K. Leroy Irvis,” said Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the Courier. “Please join me in saluting Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Vice Chancellor Robert Hill on their outstanding and continuing Black History Month presentations.”