Skip to Main Content

Social Justice Reading Club

Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

smoketown book coverOur spring Social Justice Reading Club book selection is Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker.

Pittsburgh has a rich history of achievements among African American citizens in many fields that have often been hindered by discrimination and injustice. Smoketown offers compelling and insightful stories of individuals from disparate walks of life, weaving them into a history of the social impact of Pittsburgh’s Black community from the 1920s through the 1950s. Our book discussions, exhibit, and classroom presentations will bring this history to life through the lens of sports, music, photography, and groundbreaking journalism. 

Ways to read the book:

1. Checkout the physical book from Gumberg (there are multiple copies available)

2. Checkout the eBook from Gumberg

3. Click on the links for recommended chapters associated with each program


The Teenie Harris Photography exhibit will be on display on Gumberg's fourth floor from February 1 through February 28.

Teenie Harris portrait

Charles "Teenie" Harris was an African-American photographer known for his photographs of residents and prominent visitors to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania including celebrities such as musicians and baseball players. He was also published in the Pittsburgh Courier. His work has been collected, catalogued, and preserved to help chronicle life in Pittsburgh's African American communities such as the Hill District and Homewood.





Two little league players


Featured Photo

(Duquesne multipass access required)


The Musicians of Smoketown

Duquesne music professor Dr. Edward Kocher and Dr. James T. Johnson Jr., CEO of the Afro American Music Institute, Inc. will lead a session that explores legendary African-American jazz musicians that emerged from Pittsburgh's Hill District in the mid-20th century. In Smoketown, author Mark Whitaker introduces Billy Strayhorn, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Lena Horne, Billy Eckstine, Mary Lou Williams, Kenny Clarke, and Erroll Garner. Kocher and Johnson will share captivating stories and iconic music of the musicians in Smoketown. Please prepare for a swinging hour!

The Life photo of Billy Eckstine with fans outside New York's Bop City in 1950

February 9 from 3:15 - 4:15pm

Location: College Hall 105

Recommended chapters from Smoketown:

Billy and Lena (Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne)

The Complex Mr. B. (Billy Eckstine)

Social Justice Reading Club Discussion:

Byline Fluidity: How the Pittsburgh Courier's Evelyn Cunningham Used Civil Rights Stories to Navigate from the Front Page to the Women's Pages - and Back

Presented by Dr. Pamela Walck

February 13 at 3:30 pm

Location: Gumberg Library 5th Floor


Dr. Pamela Walck of Duquesne’s Media Department will speak on the Pittsburgh Courier’s Evelyn Cunningham, who wrote for the women’s pages but was a pioneer in her own right and traveled to the Deep South to report on the Birmingham five and other major civil rights trials across the South. Nicknamed “Big East” for her towering, slim figure and her New York City chic, she had been working in the Courier’s Harlem office as a rewrite girl and unbylined features writer on the weekly’s popular women’s pages when Isiah Nixon, a Black man in South Georgia, was brutally murdered for casting a ballot in the 1948 primary elections. Her stories, a series that ran during the Christmas holidays of 1948 and into early 1949, would push Cunningham from the obscurity of a rewrite girl to the front pages of the Courier—and into an early civil rights story that would dominate headlines in the Pittsburgh weekly and beyond. It would springboard her career from anonymity to a bylined reporter on the front page of America’s leading Black press in an era where few women—Black or white—were getting bylines on the front page. This discussion will follow Cunningham’s unlikely journey from newspaper obscurity to the author of some of the biggest news stories of the early civil rights movement. It will also explore how she parlayed this popularity into a career as a columnist on the Courier’s women’s pages—all the while grappling with where she fit into mid-century feminism.

Recommended chapters from Smoketown:

Integrating Pittsburgh Sports Author Talk & Book Signing 

Presented by the Association of Gentleman Pittsburgh Journalists

February 16 from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. 

Location: Gumberg Library 5th Floor Flex Space

Watch the livestream

The program is free and open to the public. No RSVP is required.

Copies of Integrating Pittsburgh Sports will be available for purchase and signing.

Members of the Association of Gentleman Pittsburgh Journalists will discuss their latest book, Integrating Pittsburgh Sports, which chronicles the rich history of Pittsburgh sports figures' efforts to overcome racial barriers. Audacy Pittsburgh and Steelers personality Shelby Cassesse will moderate. The Association comprises a number of Pittsburgh sports experts, including Duquesne faculty member Robert Healy III,  2018 "Best of the 'Burgh" author David Finoli; sportscaster Josh Taylor; Tom Rooney, President, Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group; and Samuel W. Black, Director, Heinz History Center Museum of African American History. Additional authors include Bill Ranier; Chris Fletcher, former editor of Pittsburgh Magazine; Gary Kinn; Richard Boyer; and Douglas Cavanaugh.

Recommended chapters from Smoketown: