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Leonard Pitts

Journalist and author Leonard Garvey Pitts, Jr. was born on October 11, 1957 in Orange, California to Leonard Garvey and Agnes Rowan Pitts. He grew up in the impoverished South Central section of Los Angeles, California. A successful student, Pitts skipped several grades and entered the University of Southern California at age fifteen, where he graduated with his B.A. degree in English in 1977.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Pitts worked as a freelance journalist, writing for publications ranging from Musician to Reader's Digest. From 1976 until 1980, Pitts worked for Soul magazine as writer and editor. In 1980, he was hired as a writer for KFWB radio in Los Angeles, and, from 1983 to 1986, he worked for a program called Radioscope. Pitts wrote scripts for several radio documentaries in the late 1980s, including King: From Atlanta to the Mountaintop, Who We Are, and Young Black Men: A Lost Generation. He was hired by Westwood One, Inc. in 1989, and then by the Miami Herald in 1991, where he served as a music critic. Then, in 1994, Pitts was promoted to columnist at the Miami Herald, where he authored a column on race, politics and culture. His column was picked up for syndication by the Knight Ridder News Service, and appeared in about 250 newspapers.

Pitts is also the author of four books. His first book, Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood was published in 1999; Before I Forget, Pitts’s first novel, was released in March 2009; Forward from This Moment: Selected Columns, 1994-2008 was published in August 2009; and Freeman, his second novel, was released in 2012. Pitts has also been invited to teach at a number of institutions, including Hampton University, Ohio University, the University of Maryland, and Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2011, he served as a visiting professor at Princeton University, and in 2013, he taught at George Washington University.

Pitts has received numerous awards. In 1997, he took first place for commentary in the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors' Ninth Annual Writing Awards competition. In 2001, Pitts received the American Society of Newspaper Editors ASNE Award for Commentary Writing, and was named Feature of the Year - Columnist by Editor and Publisher magazine. In 2002, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists awarded Pitts its inaugural Columnist of the Year award. In 2002 and in 2009, GLAAD Media awarded him the Outstanding Newspaper Columnist award, and, in 2004, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Pitts also received the National Association of Black Journalists’ Award of Excellence three times, and was chosen as NABJ’s 2008 Journalist of the Year. He is a five-time recipient of the Atlantic City Press Club’s National Headliners Award and a seven-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Green Eyeshade Award. Pitts has received honorary doctorate degrees in humane letters from Old Dominion University and Utica College.

Leonard Pitts was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.273

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/23/2013

Last Name

Pitts

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

G.

Schools

University of Southern California

John C. Fremont High School

San Pedro Street Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Leonard

Birth City, State, Country

Orange

HM ID

PIT31

Favorite Season

Fall

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Doesn't Matter How Hard You Hit, It's How Hard You Can Get Hit And Stand Back Up

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

10/11/1957

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Shrimp, Red Beans and Rice, Dark Chocolate

Short Description

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts (1957 - ) won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. He was a columnist at the Miami Herald for two decades, and the author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, Before I Forget, Forward from This Moment: Selected Columns, 1994-2008, and Freeman.

Employment

RadioScope

Soul Magazine

KFWB Radio

Westwood One Inc.

Miami Herald

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Leonard Pitts' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts describes the history of Natchez, Mississippi.

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts describes her mother's education and occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Leonard Pitts talks about his paternal family's land

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Leonard Pitts describes his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Leonard Pitts talks about his father's military service

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Leonard Pitts describes his parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Leonard Pitts describes his parents' occupations

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Leonard Pitts describes his paternal family's migration from Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts describes his parents' personalities and his likeness to them

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts describes his home life

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts describes the South Central section of Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts describes his early interest in writing

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts describes the early influences on his writing

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts describes his relationship with his parents

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Leonard Pitts remembers his elementary school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Leonard Pitts recalls singing in the junior choir at church

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Leonard Pitts remembers meeting Montie Montana

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Leonard Pitts talks about his academic strengths

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Leonard Pitts talks about his relationship with his father

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts remembers his favorite foods from childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts recalls his early submissions to literary magazines

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts recalls his interest in popular culture

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts remembers John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts recalls publishing his first poem

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Leonard Pitts recalls attending the Resident Honors Program at the University of Southern California

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Leonard Pitts recalls joining the staff of Soul magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Leonard Pitts remembers working as a music critic for Soul magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Leonard Pitts remembers writing negative music reviews

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Leonard Pitts remembers his favorite musical artists

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts recalls graduating from University of Southern California

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts remembers his marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts describes his experiences as a radio writer

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts describes his growing interest in black history

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts talks about his radio documentaries

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts remembers joining the Miami Herald

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Leonard Pitts remembers the Los Angeles riots of 1992

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Leonard Pitts talks about Elvis Presley's relationship with the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Leonard Pitts talks about the social influence of music

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts talks about the changes in popular music

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts recalls his decision to stop writing music criticism

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts talks about his impressions of early rap music

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts recalls writing columns for the Miami Herald

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts describes his experiences of racial discrimination at the Miami Herald

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts describes his writing process

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Leonard Pitts talks about responding to his readers' criticism

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Leonard Pitts recalls writing 'Becoming Dad'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Leonard Pitts shares his advice to fathers

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Leonard Pitts recalls his column about the attacks of September 11, 2001

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts recalls his reaction to the O.J. Simpson trial

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts recalls winning the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts describes 'Before I Forget'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts recalls receiving death threats for one of his columns, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts recalls receiving death threats for one of his columns, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts remembers writing 'Freeman'

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Leonard Pitts describes the reception of 'Freeman'

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Leonard Pitts talks about the importance of '12 Years a Slave'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Leonard Pitts talks about the misunderstanding of African American history

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Leonard Pitts describes his plans for the future

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Leonard Pitts describes his journalistic philosophy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Leonard Pitts reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Leonard Pitts reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Leonard Pitts talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Leonard Pitts describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$3

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
Leonard Pitts recalls his column about the attacks of September 11, 2001
Leonard Pitts recalls his early submissions to literary magazines
Transcript
What was it about your column ['Sept. 12, 2001: We'll Go Forward From This Moment,' Leonard Pitts]? What did you say that really got people so excited?$$Have you re- have you read that paper at all?$$I've read parts of it.$$Yeah, it was--you know, I wrote that column--I began that column even before the second tower [South Tower of the World Trade Center, New York, New York] came down, I think. And I wrote it with a sense that we didn't--you know, at the time I started writing, we didn't know who had done this. We didn't know what the reasoning was. You know, so it was--and I couldn't write about Middle Eastern terrorism or domestic or whatever. So, I went with the only two things I did know, which was one, this made me very angry, and two, that I was--I believed that as Americans we would come together over this, and we would get whoever was responsible. And if you look at that column, it doesn't say anything terribly deep. Those are the only things that it says. And I think that what happened was that's what everybody was feeling. I think it caught what ever- what everyone was feeling. Because when that piece appeared the next day, I opened my email queue and there was, there were five hundred emails. And I went through them, and it there was far too many for me to answer. So I just sort of, you know, sorted through them and looked at a few, representative, and then closed the box. And after I clo- as I closed the box, there were a thousand. And every time I went through and sorted through them, there were five--there were more. And by the time I stopped counting, there were thirty thousand emails, you know, from that, from that particular column. It was just--it was just incredible.$$You said that--I guess whatever the gripe that the perpetrator had--you quoted in the column, you said, "You just damned your cause."$$Yeah, yeah. Which, you know, I think--I think there was a sense that, you know, you're going to make us--that they were going to make us fear, they were going to make us to, to respect their cause. And I felt that whoever did this--and I think, you know, the sense was that it was probably terrorism from somewhere afar--that they didn't, really didn't understand the character of this nation (laughter). And they didn't really understand the contrariness of this nation--that to do something like that is not going to win you respect and it's not going to win you--it's not going to win you fear. It's just going to resolve people that they're going to come get you.$$Okay. Richard Gephardt [Dick Gephardt], you know, read it on--$$Richard Gephardt read it. Regis Philbin read it on television. They set it to music, they put it on posters (laughter). That column went all over the place. That column did things that I've never seen any column by anybody ever do. It was just, it was, it was amazing. At some point--and people would ask me if I was proud of it. And it was sort of a, I had sort of a distance from it. It's like if you have four kids and you raise them, and you treat them all the same and you love them all the same, and three of them do well in life but, you know, the fourth one, you know, becomes a Nobel laureate, and goes to the moon or something. It's like, well, you know, I treated them all the same. So, it's hard for me to, to, to accept any special credit or claim on that one. It just--I wrote it, and it did what it did.$I also have a note here that you were sending stories to magazines at age twelve.$$Yeah. I started, I started submitting at twelve. I was first published at twelve, and--was it twelve? No, I was first published at fourteen in the L.A. Sentinel [Los Angeles Sentinel]. It wasn't a paying thing. The Sentinel is a black newspaper in L.A. [Los Angeles, California], and they published a poem of mine. But I started sending stuff out at twelve. There was a--you mentioned teachers that influenced you. When I was in junior high school, there was a librarian named Mr. Barbee, B-A-R-B-E-E, James Barbee [ph.]. And Mr. Barbee bought me a subscription to The Writer, which is a writers magazine. He was one of those teachers that, you know, sort of, he--you know, he had sympathy for me, I think, or empathy. And he used to let me hang out in the, in the library during recess, so I wouldn't have to deal with craziness from some of my classmates. And he bought me a subscription to The Writer. And I saw--you know, I'd read this and see that, oh, people will pay for this stuff. You know, you write, and people will--you send stuff out to magazines and people will send you money back. Okay, let's try this out (laughter). So, I started sending stuff out to magazines, literary magazines and things when I was twelve. And they sent it all right back. You know, and I still have, I still have some of those rejection notices.