Remembering Clifton Pitts: Tireless civil rights leader dies from COVID-19

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

When Clifton P. Pitts talked, people listened.

Those were just some of the words exuded by Lena Bryan-Henderson, the goddaughter of Clifton “Cliff” Pitts, about the man who spent decades fighting for the betterment of African Americans in the Mon Valley and beyond.

“He was a man who had the heartbeat of the community in his hands,” Bryan-Henderson continued. “He could effortlessly organize young, old, Black, White, rich and poor people to advance a cause which he believed would benefit the interest of his community. I witnessed him move mountains with a phone call…he dedicated his life to using his experience, connections and leadership skills to help anyone he could. He can never be replaced.”

Pitts died on Nov. 23 from complications of COVID-19. He was 76.

At the time of his passing, Pitts was the director of the Mon Valley People’s Action Committee. He had previously served as president of the Duquesne/West Mifflin NAACP, the Concerned Citizens organization and the Western Pa. Black Political Assembly. Pitts also spent 21 years working as the Director of Job Replacement for Allegheny County, then director of the Mon-Yough Action Program and director of the Help Initiate Pride program.

“Clifton is one of those people that is not just a statistic,” Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald said during a news conference on Nov. 25. “He is someone who touched a lot of lives and is going to be sorely missed.”

Pitts was born Dec. 25, 1943, in Pittsburgh to the late Heywood and Sarah Bloss-Pitts. He grew up in Duquesne, and graduated from Duquesne Senior High School. He was married to Barbara (Scott) Pitts and was the father to Vendetta Terry and the late Marvin Pitts.

“Cliff Pitts’ passing leaves a huge void for the Mon Valley and Greater Pittsburgh people for whom he tirelessly advocated,” Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff said in a statement to the New Pittsburgh Courier. “It was Pitts who showed up in my judicial chambers back in 2016 seeking help with McKeesport Councilman-elect Corry Sanders’ pardon, then followed through with the extensive process until the pardon was recently granted. Pitts also called me and Dan Onorato (then County Executive) to come to Duquesne for the dedication of a refurbished baseball field for youth. When Pitts called, we came; because he always did the same for us. I will miss him greatly.”

“He was for the people and he spent his life serving others,” added Rev. A. Marie Walker, Pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Wilmerding. Reverend Walker attended Pitts’ funeral on Nov. 30 at Living Waters Ministries, in Braddock, and said the funeral was well-attended with a diverse field of attendees.

“Cliff Pitts’ passing is a great loss for his family and our community,” said Fawn Walker-Montgomery, co-founder and executive director of Take Action Mon Valley, in a statement to the Courier. “He was a passionate and longtime advocate for the people in the Mon Valley. From his impactful voting awareness rallies to assuring Black people in the Mon Valley had jobs and resources, Cliff will be missed and we send condolences to his family and close friends.”

“He was a trailblazer for sure,” retorted state Rep. Austin Davis, in an interview with the Courier, Nov. 30, about Pitts. “I can say unequivocally, the success of my generation was paid for by the hard work and dedication of his. And I would not be a state representative today if it wasn’t for the work of Clifton Pitts.”

Rep. Davis added: “(Pitts) broke down a lot of doors so that we could walk through them. There are a lot of people that benefit from his work that don’t even realize it. And the best way that we can honor his memory, his legacy, is to continue to build on the work that he started, and continue to encourage African Americans to seek elected office, to harness our political power as a voting bloc, until we see systemic change.”

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