PITTSBURGH—A closer look into the lives of four prominent Black men from Western Pennsylvania who made important contributions to U.S. history is now possible as a result of new collections made available through Pitt’s University Library System (ULS).
Pitt graduate students, under the supervision of Pitt archivist Wendy Pflug, have spent the past 12 months organizing and cataloging the personal papers of:
• Frank Bolden (1914-2003), world-renowned war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier newspaper;
• K. Leroy Irvis (1919-2006), legendary Pennsylvania legislative leader;
• Percival L. Prattis (1895-1980), journalist with The Pittsburgh Courier and the first Black reporter to gain access to the U.S. House and Senate press galleries; and
• Tim Stevens (1945- ), past president of the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP.
“This project represents a significant effort on the part of the ULS Archives Service Center to preserve, organize, and make available a key body of material for the further study of the contributions to American history made by these important men,” said ULS director and Hillman University Librarian Rush Miller.
The four collections represent almost 200 linear feet of biographical information, correspondence, subject files, scrapbooks, images, newspaper clippings, and other materials. They are housed at Pitt’s Archives Service Center, 7500 Thomas Blvd., Point Breeze.
The ULS has finding aids in place that offer detailed information about the contents of the collections. Information on the individuals and their collections follows.
Frank Bolden The papers of this world-renowned journalist document his career as a feature writer for The Pittsburgh Courier and as one of the first World War II correspondents accredited by the U.S. Department of War. Because of racial segregation in the military, Bolden was only permitted to cover African American units. His articles, which described the bravery of soldiers in the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy, helped debunk the myth that Black soldiers could not handle the stress of combat. Bolden, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Pitt in 1934, returned to The Courier in 1945 as a features writer after declining offers from Life magazine and The New York Times. He also covered the cultural and social life of the Hill District and was The Courier’s city editor from 1956 to ‘60.
K. Leroy Irvis One of Pennsylvania's most prominent politicians, Irvis represented Pittsburgh as a Democrat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1958 to1988. Among Irvis’ many achievements was his election as Speaker of the House in 1977, the first Black to hold that position in any state legislature in the United States since Reconstruction. Prior to his successful political career, Irvis worked as a teacher, Pittsburgh steel worker, editor, civil rights worker, news commentator, law clerk, assistant district attorney, civilian attaché to the U.S. War Department, and author. He was a 1969 graduate of the Pitt School of Law. This collection contains a wide variety of materials, including the piece of legislation Irvis sponsored that made Pitt a state-related institution in 1966, as well as other legislative papers and photos, publications, correspondence, and campaign literature.
Percival L. Prattis
This collection contains documents relating to the life and career of Prattis, former executive editor of The Pittsburgh Courier. In that position, he highlighted the struggles of Blacks for fair employment opportunities, from teaching positions to sports. Prattis also had duties as a Courier reporter and was dispatched on international assignments to the Middle East, Far East, and post-World War II Europe. During World War II, he traveled extensively, covering the Black Armed Forces. In 1947 he was one of the first Black journalists unanimously granted membership in the U. S. Senate and House press galleries. Material in this collection dates from 1916 to 1980 and includes correspondence, financial reports of The Courier, drafts of articles and stories, scrapbooks, and photographs.
Tim Stevens This collection documents the life and career of Stevens, who has remained a prominent figure in the Pittsburgh community for decades. Raised in the Hill District, Stevens earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Pitt. He has served as both executive director and president of the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP. Stevens founded the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP), an organization aimed at promoting Black involvement in local, state, and national elections. Stevens also is a well-known jazz performer and vocalist. He has released several albums, both solo and with his ensemble, the Tim Stevens Project, and has written a variety of songs, including one recorded by Nancy Wilson. This collection contains correspondence, meetings minutes, brochures, flyers, personal notes, news articles, memos, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and photographs.
The ULS is the 23rd-largest academic library system within the United States. Under the administration of the Hillman University Librarian and ULS director, it includes 21 libraries and holds more than 6.2 million volumes and world-class specialized collections, among them the Archive of Scientific Philosophy and the Archives of Industrial Society, as well as major foreign-language materials from around the world totaling 1.4 million volumes. The ULS offers state-of-the-art facilities and services, with innovative digital library collections and capabilities.