Alex Pitcher was an African American lawyer and civil rights activist whose legacy will forever be remembered. He has made contributions to African American rights, specifically within education, that still hold great importance to this day. Born in the 1920s, Pitcher was raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he became one of the first African American lawyers in the state. There he led a movement to fight for the admission of black students into Louisiana State University. In 1950, Pitcher escorted the first black student to class, paving the way for Pitcher’s lifetime career desegregating public education and promoting equality.
After advocating for racial desegregation at Louisiana State University, Pitcher began working closely with the NAACP’s head attorney, Thurgood Marshall. In 1954, he and Marshall worked together on one of the biggest civil rights cases the U.S. Supreme Court had ever seen: Brown v. Board of Education. This case was a pivotal moment in history that dismantled the “separate but equal” doctrine founded in the 1897 case of Plessy v. Ferguson in a fight against segregation laws. Brown v. Board of Education was comprised of a coordinated group of five different cases against the school districts of Kansas, South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Marshall, Pitcher, and other prominent lawyers recruited to work on the case argued that not only were the quality of separated schools unequal, but having this segregation made black students feel inferior to white students. They used studies and research administered by top professionals from all over the country to prove the negative effects of segregation. Pitcher and his colleagues assisted Marshall in proving that segregation was an attempt to keep “the people who were formerly in slavery as near to that stage as is possible” (NAACP). After years of persistent struggles, Marshall and Pitcher convinced the Supreme Court to side in their favor. Segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional, forcing schools to desegregate.
Alex Pitcher worked with Thurgood Marshall on the Brown v. Board of Education case.
In 1963, Pitcher and his wife, Rosalie Thierry, moved from Louisiana to San Francisco. They settled together in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, which had a high population of African Americans. Pitcher picked up his career in law where he had left off. He acquired prominent roles in the running of local economic advancement and low-income home-buying programs. According to Kevin Fagan of SFGate, “he became executive director of the Bayview Hunters Point Housing Development Corp., and in 1976 Pitcher served as a community consultant to the city’s Department of Public Works’ Clean Water Program.” His involvement didn’t stop there, however, as he worked as a deacon at a local Providence Baptist Church, member of the African American Democratic Club, the Black Leadership Forum, and member of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Always active, Pitcher was an important figure in providing a voice for African American communities in San Francisco politics.
Alex Pitcher remained close to the city government of San Francisco throughout his activism and community engagement. In 1971, Pitcher collaborated with Mayor Aliotto to secure funds for a Bayview–Hunters Point Health Clinic. In the good graces of Mayor Allioto and his constituents, Alex Pitcher left his seat on the Bayview–Hunters Point Model Neighborhood Agency, to be promoted to serve as the Executive Director of the Model Cities Housing Development Agency in 1972.
Later in life, Pitcher became the president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP. His term lasted from 1994 up until his death in 2000 at the age of 75. While serving as president, he “led attempts to promote school integration, to ease racial tensions with police, and to help rebuild neighborhood programs and commerce” (Fagan).
Comer Marshall, a leader at the NAACP who worked closely with Pitcher, said, “[Pitcher] was an icon of the community. He was godfather to the community and an individual who had an understanding of all of the political ramifications. He still took a stand for justice.”
Alex Pitcher’s legacy has been vital to the rights of people of color, directly in San Francisco and resonating throughout the nation. He broke down barriers in Louisiana by becoming a lawyer. His work on the Brown v. Board of Education case is essential to civil rights and tackling segregation, even now. The contributions he made in the local politics of San Francisco have helped shape a community. His accomplishments are plentiful and Pitcher will be remembered as a true leader.
— Carlos Calles; additional research by Annelise Suleiman and Sophia Tarantino
Cone, Russ. “Coleman Out As Clinic Chief.” SF Chronicle. 23 Nov 1971.
Fagan, Kevin. “S.F. Civil Rights Leader Dies at 75.” SFGate. 7 Jan 2000.
“Landmark: Brown v. Board of Education NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Lewis, Gregory, and Annie Nakao. “NAACP Leader’s Talk With S.F. Cops.” SF Gate. 13 Sep 1995.