Bob Pitts: Thanks for quietly opening the doors

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With the recent deaths of John Adams, David Epperson and Nate Smith and the death last year of Robert Lavelle, it brought my thoughts back to a man who is still living and his contributions to the success of all Blacks in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas.

It was a special honor for me to be a part of the honoring of a gentle giant. A quiet hero was honored last year as the Courier honored the 50 Men Of Excellence and included this man as one of three legendary honorees.

Last year the Courier added a new category to the proceedings by honoring three men who had been trailblazers. Those men were Robert R. Lavelle, Wendell Freeland and Robert Pitts. Unless you’ve had your head totally in the sand everyone knows the contributions of Freeland and Lavelle. But few really know the magnitude of what Pitts has meant to Pittsburgh. In fact, if it weren’t for Pitts, most of the men and women of excellence would not have been possible, because there would have maybe been 50 in the entire Pittsburgh area.

Back in the ‘70s Harvey Adams was the president of the Pittsburgh NAACP and through his leadership doors and barriers were opened in every field in Pittsburgh and throughout the country. Harvey was the loud mouth militant front man who did the shouting, cursing and threatening that had White folks and many Black folks scared to death. They didn’t want these people coming into their neighborhoods, their schools, and their jobs. So while Harvey was shouting, Bob, as the vice president of the Pittsburgh NAACP and head of the all powerful Labor and Industry Committee, strategized how to work behind the scenes to get the doors open for Blacks in the various businesses, public and private agencies, and organizations throughout the Pittsburgh area. If they employed or influenced people the NAACP made sure Blacks were included. Pitts was the cool and calm character who very seldom raised his voice but was dead serious about everything he said.

While Harvey threatened to kick the door down, Bob quietly picked the locks to create just a crack in the door so Blacks could ease in without a sound to corporations and all businesses throughout the city as well as the political arena and government jobs. He worked tirelessly as the mature voice guiding the young minds of future leaders such as Dennis Schatzman, David Berkley, Starr Marshall and Eugene Beard to name a few on that Labor and Industry Committee. He was also a great influence on a young reporter just starting out, sitting in on those meetings and attending the marches.

Pitts was content to march alongside, and behind more vocal leaders such as Harvey Adams and Nate Smith in the freezing cold in New Stanton as the NAACP led the fight to get Blacks in at all levels of the Volkswagen plant there, as well as the many other fights of the ‘70s and ‘80s to get Blacks included in the work place. One of their greatest accomplishments was the implementation of an agreement with the Pittsburgh police, where Harvey was a sergeant, to hire one Black male, one Black female, and one White female for every White male hired until Blacks made up the percentage on the police force that they did in the city. Most of the Blacks on the police force today owe their jobs to this agreement. Another great accomplishment was any cable company that got the contract to service Pittsburgh had to have 10 percent Black ownership.

These were standards that spread across the country, but were gradually killed by the anti-integration right-wingers over the years as they defeated many affirmative action measures at every level calling them quotas and reverse discrimination. But despite the right’s fight against affirmative action, diversity and integration, Blacks have squeezed through the cracks left in the door by people such as Bob Pitts and even though we have a long, long, way to go in Pittsburgh and throughout the country, the fact that the Courier can honor 50 Men of Excellence, and 50 Women of Excellence, shows just how far we have come, because there was a time when finding 50 Blacks in the professional fields period would have been nearly impossible.

So once again I would like to thank, Bob Pitts, for the great work he has done over the years in quietly opening the doors for so many Blacks who have followed, both young and old, proving that it’s not how loud you shout, but how well you prepare. During the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s we needed both, the shouters and the planners, which hopefully will be an example to us today, with all the problems still facing the Black community. Where are our behind the scene planners, the younger versions of Bob Pitts?

I just wanted to say this while he is still living. Far too often we wait until death.

(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

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