With Diligence and Care: Celebrating Memorial Day through the Photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris
Each Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have died in service to this country as part of its armed forces. With diligence and care, many local observances of this holiday seek to uplift African Americans, who have often fought and died abroad for a country that marginalized them through segregation and Jim Crow laws at home.
During the 1940s, Charles “Teenie” Harris photographed over 1,500 soldiers in his studio, which was located on Centre Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. These portraits were his contribution to the war effort. As a photojournalist for the Pittsburgh Courier, Harris also captured the realities—points of pride and points of sorrow—of a “separate but equal” service during this era.
Harris’s photographs preserve the legacy of black patriotism during a time of visible discrimination. The lived experiences of Master Sergeant Eugene Boyer Jr., a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and of Mr. Staff Sergeant Lance Woods—60 years Boyer’s junior, and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan—have been woven into this history. Their recollections of their unique experiences frame the activities captured in these photographs.
“The day that I was drafted in 1945, I go down there to the draft board, and you’re waiting to get assigned to a unit in the military, and they’ve got you all lined up, and they say, ‘This guy, you go to the Navy. This one to Marines. This one to the Army.’ I was literally praying, ‘Please don’t let me go to the Navy,’ because the only thing you could be in the Navy was a cook. And a server. For a guy who comes in the military expecting to defend his country, here you are, you’re serving dinner to these officers, and they weren’t always very nice. But the feeling of the Navy was, that was the only thing you were capable of doing.”
—Master Sergeant Eugene Boyer Jr., US Army 1
“In the Army, it’s all hurry up and wait. You know, so everything’s rushing a million miles an hour and then you sit down for six months, six weeks, you know, six days. Nothing is immediate, I feel like. Until it is.”—Staff Sergeant Lance Woods, US Army
“Hurry up and wait. You sat on your duffle bag, and you waited for wherever they were sending you. You were always moving, after a year or so in one spot, you were always being transferred someplace else [. . .] They’d send you there and you’d do everything that had to be done, and you were there maybe six months, a year, and then you were off to someplace else.”—Master Sergeant Eugene Boyer Jr., US Army 2
“I got on a bus one day. I was probably 16 or 17, and the war was going on. There was a black pilot, he was a lieutenant, on the bus, and he had dark glasses on. I found out he had gotten fragments in his eyes in an air[strike] and his vision was impaired [. . .] For me, that was the greatest thing that could’ve happened. I really saw a black fighter pilot, so you know now, it’s possible. That was a great feeling.”—Master Sergeant Eugene Boyer Jr., US Army 3