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PITTMAN, WILLIAM SIDNEY

PITTMAN, WILLIAM SIDNEY (1875–1958). William Sidney Pittman, black architect, was born in Alabama on April 21, 1875. He attended Tuskegee Institute, where he completed programs in woodwork and architectural-mechanical drawing in 1897. He then entered Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, where he completed the architecture and mechanical drawing program in 1900. From late 1900 to 1905 Pittman worked at Tuskegee Institute as head of the department of architectural drawing. He was responsible for overseeing all campus construction. In late 1903 he left Tuskegee to establish a private practice in Washington, D.C. Between 1905 and 1909 he designed public schools, college facilities, and hotels and gained recognition as one the most accomplished black architects in America. During this period he was commissioned to prepare design and construction documents for the Negro Building at the Jamestown Exposition, the world's fair held in Virginia in 1907. Pittman was also involved in community development in Fairmont Heights, Maryland, where he lived. He organized and was elected president of the Fairmont Heights Improvement Company, an investment organization geared toward fostering an alternative to the inner-city ghetto. He was president of the Heights Citizens Committee and the Washington chapter of the Negro Business League, for which he edited the Negro Business League Herald.

In 1907 Pittman married Portia Washington, daughter of Booker T. Washington, founder and principal of Tuskegee Institute. In 1913 the Pittmans moved to Dallas, Texas, where they raised two sons and a daughter. Between 1911 and 1927 they resided at three different addresses; at each, Pittman operated his architectural practice from his home. He was the first practicing black architect in Texas. During his sixteen-year practice in Dallas, he designed at least seven major projects in the city, as well as projects in Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Waxahachie. Five of his known structures still stood in 1990. The Colored Carnegie Library of Houston (1913) was torn down in 1962 to yield to a freeway. The Allen Chapel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church (1914) still stands in Fort Worth. The United Brothers of Friendship Hall of San Antonio (1915) was also demolished in the path of an expressway. Joshua Chapel AME Church was dedicated in 1917 and is extant in Waxahachie. The Grand Temple (1915) of the State Grand Lodge, Knights of Pythias, still stands in Dallas, though the five-story structure is no longer owned by the Pythians. The St. James AME Church (1919) still stands in Dallas within view of the old Knights of Pythias headquarters; the building was sold and remodeled as office space in 1984. In Houston, the five-story Grand United Order of Oddfellows (Negro) lodge building was constructed from Pittman's plans in 1924. It was razed in 1982 to make way for parking and annex space for the Alley Theatre. The Wesley Chapel AME Church was built in 1926. The original building still stands southeast of downtown Houston. The Colored Carnegie Library of Houston and the Knights of Pythias Temple of Dallas were acclaimed across the United States in newspapers and magazines. The library was the first one for blacks in Houston. The Pythian Temple was almost totally financed by the black citizens of Dallas. Both structures were presented as examples for other African Americans to emulate. They were benchmarks for Texas and the United States.

In 1925 Pittman became president of the Brotherhood of Negro Building Mechanics in Texas. In 1928 he and his wife separated, and he ceased to practice as an architect. She returned to Tuskegee and worked as a teacher. During the 1930s and 1940s Pittman earned a living as a carpenter and published a weekly newspaper, The Brotherhood Eyes. He used the paper to vent his criticisms of the black community. A firm believer in supporting black businesses, Pittman charged the black middle class with hypocrisy for patronizing white businesses instead of black ones. He also criticized black ministers for their lax morals. As a result of his publications Pittman was charged with libel in 1936, but acquitted. He died in Dallas on March 14, 1958, and was buried in the Glen Oaks Cemetery in south Dallas. Because he practiced in Texas longer than in any other state, the state should have more examples of his work than any other region of the United States. The majority of his structures have not been identified, however, and may never be identified because public records of them are lacking and Pittman's personal records have not been located.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Ruth Ann Stewart, Portia: The Life of Portia Washington Pittman, the Daughter of Booker T. Washington (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1977).

Everett L. Fly

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Everett L. Fly, "PITTMAN, WILLIAM SIDNEY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpi32), accessed August 27, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.