Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Spotlight on Black History Month and Guest Speaker Stephen Pitters

By Kris Krell

Spotlight on Black History Month and Guest Speaker Stephen Pitters

In honor of Black History month, Spotlight on Spokane shines a light on local accomplished educator, poet, writer, and radio host, Mr. Stephen Pitters.  At our most recent Eastern Washington Genealogical Society (EWGS) meeting this past Saturday, we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Pitters.  His presentation was engaging and captivated the audience with humorous and honest anecdotes about his life and undertakings to uncover and discover family history records beyond the United States.

Mr. Pitter’s history, while unique to finding difficult historical records of his black ancestors, was relatable to all who have ventured to discover ancestral evidence.  After years of research and with pen in hand, he arrived at the South Hill Library ready to continue the arduous task of uncovering clues to his past.  The staff recommended he go to the main Spokane Public Library to investigate their genealogy holdings.  While downtown, he engaged volunteers of EWGS, who were immediately absorbed into his research and asked that he share his experience with all members.

The speaker has successfully traced his lineage back to 1778. His extensive research into his family story includes Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Panama.  It is his own immediate line of Pitters, along with Beadle, Sleigh, and Wood, that led him to delve into microfiche about St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.  It was on this microfiche where he discovered names for Pitter and excitedly thought that he had found his family at last.  However, he soon realized that this list of surnames didn’t include the letter “s”; that made him question the findings.  He then shared with us an interesting theory about naming traditions of American slaves.  He asserts that when American slaves became free in the 1830s a letter was added to or taken away from the last name to denote than an individual was no longer a slave.  This was the first I had heard this interesting theory, and I am confident it news to other attendees.

Among those who have researched for years, there were knowing nods and smiles as we reflected on our own laborious journeys of researching and discovering ancestors on microfiche.

Before closing, Stephen read a few selections from his published poetry books. His writings reflect on his life, as well as others.  As a proud father, Stephen shared his admiration and appreciation for his daughter who created the art work covers of his last two books!  You know the old saying, talent runs in families!

Stephen believes the most important thing we can pass down to our children and to the next generation is our own unique family histories.  Because of this belief, he has chosen to spend countless hours methodically researching to ensure accuracy.

The audience was fortunate to be able to hear a taped conversation of Mr. Pitter’s 100 year old grandmother and that was a treat for all! After listening to Stephen’s presentation, I was reminded that research takes different forms, and each requires patience and time to gather treasured pictures, documents, oral stories, etc.  I will definitely try to be more patient in my own personal research.  I have only just begun my journey of finding my ancestors—I have a long way to go. And I am also reminded that this labor of love is never really over because there will always be stories to be told and new discoveries to be found.

·      For those of you who wish to learn more about Mr. Pitter’s life and work, I suggest reading one of his six published books of poetry or listening to his broadcast on his Saturday morning radio show, Open Poetry Program, on KYRS community public radio station at 88.1/92.3 FM

·      Web links of his work can be found at:

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