OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A mural dedicated to one of the first Black officer Medal of Honor recipients was unveiled Saturday at the northeast Oklahoma City park named after him.
Captain Riley Leroy Pitts, (October 15, 1937 – October 31, 1967), posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1968 making him one of the first Black-American officers to receive the nation’s highest military decoration.
Pitts Park was named after the Captain by city proclamation in 1975.
Now, the park is also the permanent home to a mural of the distinguished soldier.
Captain Pitts was a career soldier in the US Army, assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, according to the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.
He was killed Oct. 31, 1967, near Ap Dong, Vietnam, just one month before he was scheduled to return home.
“It was two weeks before Christmas… a Colonel was on the porch and he rang the door. He came in and told me,’ We lost him’,” said his Captain Pitts’ widow Eula in a recent interview with KFOR.
“We are lucky that people are still remembering him now,” Mrs. Pitts added.
President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the medal to Eula, and his son and daughter at the White House on December 10, 1968.
“He was a brave man, and leader of men. No greater thing could be said of any man. His valor under fire moved him forever into that select company where the heroes of our history stand,” said President Johnson during the commendation.
“His sacrifice was for us all. His countrymen, and all who live in freedom, will be indebted to him for all of freedom’s days,” he added.
Today, Captain Pitts is remembered as a war hero, husband and father.
“A lot of people lost their families and they didn’t…they weren’t known [but] they all deserve a medal of honor,” said Eula as she reflected on the significance of the day.
“My dad gets most of the limelight, but [other] guys, you know, paid their price and and they deserve recognition as well,” said Mark Pitts, Captain Pitts’ son, during the dedication Saturday.
“There’s a rich history of African Americans [that] have had the action and the valor and the sacrifice that haven’t been recognized,” he continued.
“Their family’s sacrifice is just as profound as ours has been.”
A National Medal of Honor Museum honoring recipients is also set to open in Arlington, Texas, in the future.
“I didn’t grow up with him living but he was always around [and] he was larger than life,” said daughter Stacie in the interview with Eula.
“Even though he wasn’t here physically, we never lost sight of him, of who he was,” she added saying her father’s legacy makes him a role model to the community.
“It’s so important to see what could be, or what else there is. If [his legacy] touches two or three of those kids…it gives them options.”
The mural honoring the Captain was formally dedicated on Veterans Day.
“Pitts Park … it has special meaning to our family. This is the area that my father grew up in. Our family church is right down on 12th, and we appreciate the fact that so many people [feel] like it is theirs. They own it. So, you know, we want them to know that this mural is part of part of them and part of their community as well,” Mark added.
This project is made possible by funding through the City of Oklahoma City’s 1% for Art program and a Community Development Block Grant in conjunction with the Oklahoma Mural Syndicate and the With Love Project Foundation.
Watch exclusive interview with mural artist below.
Tinker Federal Credit Union, a longtime sponsor of public art, also sponsors the mural, which was designed by Dallas-based artist Jeremy Biggers – who is known for his vibrant portraits and contemporary style.
“There’s a lot of parts of the city that used to be thriving Black communities [but] there’s no trace or even no way to know we were ever there. His [Captain Pitts] face is not going anywhere. Ten years from now [we’ll know] that Captain Pitts was a hero for the east side of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and our country,” said Jabee Williams of the With Love Project.
The With Love Project Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that grew out of a collaboration to amplify Black voices and artists of color through outdoor public art focused on the Eastside of Oklahoma City.