The Facts Newspaper honors the legacy of Washington-based community activist, former Director Housing Developer for the Central Area Motivation Project (CAMP), retired Montford Point Marine, Congressional Gold Medalist, and our dearest friend, Clayton Pitre.
By Chardonnay Beaver -
Pitre was born to Gilbert Pitre and Eugenie Lemelle on June 30th, 1924 in Opelousas, located in Saint Landry Parish, LA. He was the fourth child of seven siblings, where they spoke Creole French along with English. His father worked as a cotton and yam farmer, while his mother was a homemaker. Pitre left school in the ninth grade due to the lack of educational opportunities, leading him to work in various defense plants in early World War II Texas.
At the age of 19, Pitre was drafted into the military in 1943. He began blazing trails at a young age, signing-up to become one of the first Blacks to join the U.S. Marine Corps where he trained at Camp Montford Point, a racially-segregated facility near Jacksonville, North Carolina. Pitre’s fight against injustice appears evident in his efforts to help integrate the U.S. armed forces during the Civil Rights Movement- which was successful in 1949.
Pitre served in Saipan, Japan, and China. In fact, he oversaw the evacuation of the Japanese army in China before he was honorably discharged in 1946. Shortly after he completed his service, Pitre was persuaded to accompany his older brother in Seattle, WA. When arriving in Seattle, he worked in the U.S. Navy’s Fort Lawton. Later enrolling at Seattle’s Broadway Edison Technical School-- which provided programs specialized for military veterans who had not earned their high school diploma-- and with support from the G.I. Bill, he passed his vocational test
In 1957, Pitre and Gloria Tony, a french professor, were introduced through family friends. They wed a year later. From their union, three sons were born -- Clayton Jr., Michael, and Paul-- and they created a home in the Mount Baker area for several decades. In 1968, Pitre graduated from Seattle University, earning a degree in accounting. Throughout college he sold real estate and worked for the U.S. Postal Service. Pitre was an active, proud member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
After working fourteen years as a postal clerk, Pitre became the Director of Housing Development for the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP). He worked closely with First AME Church and the Urban League to fund and build low-income housing across Seattle. His fight against injustice transitioned from integration to housing and economic stability for Seattle’s working-class Black community.
After CAMP ended in 1973, Pitre worked for the Veterans Administration for eleven years until his retirement in 1984. He continued his community involvement with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the Knights of Columbus, and the African American Dollars for Scholars program.
On June 26, 2012, Pitre was among 400 Black Marines honored by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony where each received a Congressional Gold Medal. He and his fellow veterans were survivors of the nearly 20,000 Black Marines who trained at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949. This honor was a testament of Pitre’s tenacity, courage, and grit.
On January 1st, at the age of 96, Pitre passed away. He leaves a beautiful legacy of three sons. We, the Beaver family, will certainly miss his infectious laugh, wisdom, and remarkable storytelling ability.