John Brewer examining some of the thousands of Courier photos he is preserving. Photo by Sidney Davis.
While researching my upcoming book about the Steelers’ secret strategy for winning championships, I met John Brewer. He’s a historian who had the good fortune of finding a cache of old production books from the Pittsburgh Courier that everyone thought had been lost. Brewer has since started the tedious process of preserving the newspaper’s images. Because the Courier was the nation’s leading black newspaper for much of the 20th Century, its archives show the history of African-Americans across sports, entertainment and every day life. I wrote about Brewer’s experience for the Tribune-Review, and interviewed him for WESA-FM, Pittsburgh’s NPR affiliate.
As Courier publisher Rod Doss told me: “A lot of the photographs captured the culture of a community that otherwise was not seen in other media. It showcases the community activities, the lifestyle activities, the dress that was maintained, the nightlife, the Negro leagues. All those things were captured in these photographs.”
For someone with a keen eye, the images also present some of the rarest moments in sports history. Brewer has one image (below) that shows Satchel Paige, the great Cleveland Indians hurler, inside a Hill District club when he played with the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro leagues. He’s there with Gus Greenlee, the Crawfords’ owner and notorious numbers-runner, along with Wendell Smith, the Courier sports reporter who famously advocated for Major League Baseball to integrate (familiar for anyone who has seen “42”), and Bill Nunn Sr., the paper’s managing editor and the father of its black college All-America teams. More on that to come later this year.
You can find my full Trib story here: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/8394422-74/courier-brewer-pittsburgh#ixzz3bFiNChTB.
And you can hear the WESA-FM segment on Essential Pittsburgh here: http://wesa.fm/post/forgotten-courier-closet-yields-wealth-pittsburgh-black-history.
Photo (of the original photo) by Sidney Davis.