Marjorie Edwina Pitter King was the first African American woman to serve as a Washington State legislator and was one of the state's earliest African American businesswomen. For nearly 50 years she owned and operated M and M Accounting and Tax Services.
Born to Black Pioneers
Born and raised in Seattle, she lived most of her life in the Central Area of the city. Her parents were Seattle pioneers Edward A. Pitter (1886-1974), a Jamaican, and Marjorie Allen Pitter a direct descendent of Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia more than two centuries ago.
Edward Pitter arrived in Seattle in 1909, during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. He came as a captain's steward on a passenger liner, liked what he saw after the ship docked, and decided to stay. He became a King County Court Clerk and co-edited the book Who's Who in Religious, Fraternal, Social, Civic and Commercial Life on the Pacific Coast with Samuel P. DeBow published in 1926-1927 by Searchlight Publishing Company.
The Pitters had three daughters, Constance, Maxine and Marjorie and in the 1920s the family rented a house on 34th Avenue E directly across Madison Avenue from Broadmoor in Washington Park. They did not stay long, however, because Mrs. Pitter had to buy a pistol and threaten to use it on hostile neighbors to protect the family. They later bought a three-story house at 24th Avenue and Pine Street and Marjorie remembered, "When we moved into our house, the neighbors did sign a petition to keep us out. But it didn't mean anything and we just ignored it. There were no restrictive covenants" (McDermott). The house is now listed on the Black Historical Tour of Seattle.
Despite racial discrimination, the Pitter family had a happy social life as described by Edward Pitter:
"We [African Americans] had dances all over town! We had fully dressed dances. I mean fully dressed. Tails! ... I used to wear a silk hat and tails and I had a cape you throw back and a monocle. I had a monocle" (Horn).
The girls had a steady diet of church socials. Marjorie King noted, "I was so shocked when I went to high school and found out the white girls didn't have formals and gloves. On Sunday, you set your table with your best linen, your best silverware. We used to leave the house unlocked and we would come home and find young people waiting for us inside. There was such warmth. There was a feeling within the [black] community of knowing each other" (McDermott). In two issues of the Black Heritage Society Newsletter in 1993, Marjorie Pitter King contributed nostalgic images of the Central Area in the "Do You Remember" column.
Marjorie graduated from Garfield High School and followed her sisters to the University of Washington, intending to study for an accounting degree in the College of Economics and Business. In order to earn money to help pay for books and tuition she founded "Tres Hermanas" or "Three Sisters," an enterprise run by the three sisters to type, print and write speeches. Her experience at the University of Washington was not a positive one. She felt that she was ignored by some professors and she also witnessed racial slurs. She was frequently on academic probation because of low grades.
"Those that were friendly or good professors, their assessments of me and my work and of the encouragement they gave, were very helpful. But the negative professors had the opposite effect. Unfortunately the negative ones outweighed the positive ones. They had really influenced my life from the academic standpoint. I've gone on to have a measurable amount of success in other areas; but psychologically I have this wall against further education or even completing my education" (Horn).
In 1942, her senior year, she transferred to Howard University, in Washington, D.C., to complete her graduation requirements. She dropped out of school that year, however, to work at the Pentagon during World War II and never graduated. She married John T. King, and they would have two sons, Walter and Edward.
Accomplishments of Sisters
Her two sisters completed their course work at the University of Washington but met employment resistance. Constance (Pitter Thomas, 1918-2006) graduated and was a student teacher in the Seattle School District but was not offered a permanent position until years later when she was hired as a speech therapist for the district.
Maxine (Pitter Haynes, 1919-2004) completed three years of nursing prerequisites at the University of Washington, but was turned down when she applied to the nursing program. She switched her major to sociology and graduated in 1941, then moved to New York to attend the Lincoln School of Nursing. Moving back to Seattle in 1945, she became the first African American nurse at Providence Hospital, now Swedish Medical Center/Providence Campus. She also served as education director for the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic and taught at Seattle Pacific University, from where she retired in 1981 as professor emeritus.
Marjorie Pitter King returned to Seattle in 1944, and established a successful tax business called M and M Tax and Consultant Services. Her office was in the basement of her home at 1627 25th Avenue just around the corner from the family home on 24th Avenue and Pine Street.
Her clients came from various places including Mexico and Alaska and some could not pay. She would help people who could not read or write English and even wrote letters for them. She operated the business for nearly 50 years before she sold it in 1995.
Politics and the Democratic Party
The Pitter family participated actively in politics. Edward Pitter helped establish the Colored Democratic Club Incorporated for the Washington State and King County. In 1963, he was honored as Democrat of the Year. Marjorie Allen Pitter helped establish the Colored Woman's Progressive Democratic Club of King County. It was no accident that her daughter Marjorie became actively involved also. Marjorie and her sisters passed out literature, attended rallies, and campaigned for candidates.
Marjorie Pitter King remembered, "Politics opened doors for us and was very helpful. During the Christmas vacations, we were able to work at the post office and earn money to help with our schooling. It also helped my father obtain his job because he had been working on WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects. Then he went from there to deputy sheriff" (Horn).
As an adult Marjorie King became prominent in Democratic Party activities, taking a leading part in organizing youth activities. She received a letter in 1946, from Eleanor Roosevelt thanking her for organizing a group of young Seattle Democrats.
She served as chairwoman of the 37th District Democratic Party, treasurer of the Washington State Federation of Democratic Women, Inc., and on the rules, credentials and platform committee of the King County Democratic Party. She attended the 1964 National Democratic Convention and battled to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party. At the 1968 Convention in Chicago she was tear-gassed during the riots.
Appointment to State Legislature
On May 25, 1965, Ann T. O'Donnell (1936-1965), a Democrat and Washington State legislator from the 37th district met an untimely death. At the age of 23 she was noted by the local newspapers as being the youngest woman legislator in the United States.
A fight ensued over the appointment of her successor whose term would end in 1966. The 37th District Democratic Precinct Committeemen recommended David Sprague, real-estate and insurance broker, as a replacement for O'Donnell. He received 26 votes, King received 15 votes and Walter Hubbard 3. The information was transmitted to the County Central Committee.
The Democratic County Executive Board recommended Marjorie King to complete Ms. O'Donnell's term. She polled 43 votes in the contest for the District seat and David Sprague received 24 votes. The County Commissioners named her as state legislator.
Marjorie King completed the term and then ran for position No. 2 from the 37th District against Keve Bray, Republican, and Democrats I. Edwards, Ray Olsen, and David Sprague. Although she was rated by the Municipal League as an above-average candidate who showed promise of becoming a capable legislator, she was defeated by David Sprague.
In House Resolution No. 2005-4614, it was stated that Representatives Charles Stokes and Marjorie Pitter King were the first black American man and woman to serve in the legislature following the proclamation of Washington statehood.
In addition to her political life, Marjorie Pitter King served as a board member of the YMCA and the Seattle Urban League; president of Alpha Omicron Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; and member of the Black Heritage Society and the Luther Human Relations Institute.
Marjorie Pitter King died on January 28, 1996.