Councilman William Pitt: Always striving to do better than the day before

Published 10:32 am Monday, February 20, 2023

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By Clark Curtis 

For the Washington Daily News

Editors Note: In recognition of Black History Month, with the assistance of Leesa Jones, director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, Clark Curtis will take a closer look at some of the people, places, and events that have helped mold the story of Washington. The stories being shared are all part of Jones’ African American Walking History Tour of Washington. Black history is one of the cornerstones of the towns’ deep and rich history.

William Pitt was born to the parents of Wilhelmina Perkins Johnson and Ernest William Pitt in 1955 at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, North Carolina. “I was delivered by Dr. Andrew Best,” said Pitt, “one of the greatest civil rights leader to ever come along in Pitt County.” At the age of five he and his parents moved to Washington, which he has called home ever since.

His mother was a nurse and in the late 30’s became the first female and Black nurse to ever work at Beaufort County Taylor Hospital. His father was a school teacher in Pitt County.  

Pitt recalls growing up in the 60’s in Washington was very different. “One of the toughest things growing up here, not just as a Black child, but any child, was figuring out where do I go, what do I do, what is my niche in life” said Pitt. “My Uncle Reese, who ran Perkins Cab, always used to call me an “oddball”.  Admittedly, I was a little different, as I was always looking for and trying new things to peak my interest.”

Pitt attended Washington High School where he would become the first class of integrated Blacks in the city. “That really took some getting used to,” said Pitt. “We used to think “wow” what’s going to happen to us after graduation as the country was so torn up at the time over racial division.”

Like most young people at the time, Pitt graduated and then left Washington in 1973. “I didn’t want to work at National Spinning or Singer or any of the industries that were here,” said Pitt. “I went away to college for awhile to study psychology, but never finished my degree, which still remains one of my goals in life.”

While in college Pitt says he did find a niche, photography. Way before there were digital cameras, “it was all film back in those days,” said Pitt. “I have images from the 70’s and further back. I have what I would consider of photographic history of Washington. It was a niche that I found  and that I continue to this day.”

In the early 80’s Pitt got his first taste of politics, when he ran for city council. “Reverend David Moore of the Metropolitan Church thought the Black community needed to get involved in local government,” said Pitt. “He got five Black individuals to run for city council, and we all lost.” 

Pitt stayed out of politics for over 20 years. However in 2009, he was recruited to run one more time because of his love of the town. “Black and White members of the community came to me and asked me to run,” said Pitt. “They had a vision of Washington, its great history, and what a great place it is to live and work.” Pitt obliged, ran for office, and won. “I thought wow, this was pretty easy.”

Pitt has now served on the the city council for over 17 years. It has afforded him the opportunity to not only serve the City of Washington but others across the state. He joined the board of the North Carolina League of Municipalities in 2013, which is comprised of 540 cities across North Carolina. For over 100 years, the League has been one voice for cities and towns working for a better North Carolina.  “I just wanted to be a part of a group that had a true vision of the future and where we should be headed.” 

Pitt would go on to serve two terms as vice president of the NC League of Municipalities and would become only the third individual from Washington to ever serve as president. “That was such an honor,” said Pitt. “It afforded me the chance on more that one occasion to travel to Washington, DC, which I call the “Peoples House”.

As a member of city council, it has given Pitt the opportunity to serve on the Mid-East Commission, which is comprised of five counties in eastern North Carolina, which have come together to enhance the ability of local governments to successfully improve the quality of life for citizens in Eastern North Carolina.. He also serves on the Highway 17 North Association, which seeks state and federal money to maintain and improve roads and bridges along that corridor. And the North Carolina Municipal Power Agency.

To this day, despite all of this, he is still bothered and dejected by the 2018 city council election in which he fell 2 votes short of being re-elected. Following a recount, he and his opponent were tied. As North Carolina law would have it, the runoff would be determined by the “luck of the draw.” Ten slips of paper were placed in a hat. Five with one candidates name, and five with the other. Each candidate would draw until they pulled their own name. Pitt was the first to do so. “I can’t tell you how stressful that all was,” said Pitt. “If I loose the election I loose my presidency on the NC League of Municipalities. I continue to this day to question what could I have done differently to have won the election outright. This was also an example of why it is so important for people to get out and exercise their right to vote, because their votes count and really can make a difference.”

Outside of politics, Pitt has served the community in many different ways. He has been an Emergency Medical Technician and a volunteer fireman of Washington for over 37 years. As part of that service Pitt received the Edward Peed Award for community service. Records indicate that Peed was the first firefighter to have died in the line of duty in Washington and the first Black fireman to have died in the line of duty in North Carolina. “I was amazed and blessed the day the state fire marshal’s office gave me the award,” said Peed. “I’m proud to this day that I can say that I’m a member of the Washington Fire Department.” Pitt was also a dispatcher at the sheriffs office for 13 years.

With all of Pitts’ accomplishments, and there are many, number one for him is the day he got married. “I have been married to my wife Joyce for over 20 years now,” said Pitt. “We devoted our lives to each other back then, and continue to do so to this day.”

While reflecting upon his life here in Washington Pitt openly admits that he is very biblical and believes in the power of prayer. “I have a good deal of faith in the Lord and that He’s not done with me yet,” said Pitt. “I have done a lot and experienced a lot of things. And Im looking to experience more here. I’m not done yet.”  And when asked by many if he has lived here his entire life, his reply with a smile is “not yet!”

In the long run, Pitt hopes that he can serve as an example and inspiration for others.  “February is set aside as Black History Month, “said Pitt. “If you are Black every month is Black history month, every day is Black history day. If you are White, every day is White history day. If you are Hispanic, every day is White history day. Martin Luther King Jr. would be sick today to see all of the division that still exists. That’s why it is so important to be together and all singing the same song. We all have a place in this city and together we can make a difference in molding the future or our community..” 

For Pitt personally, “As a councilman I want to leave Washington better and greater than when I found it.”

Councilman Pitts’ story is Part of the Black Leaders and Legends Tour of the African American History Tour of Washington.