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Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.

Jesse W. Clipper, 1882 - 1917

This biography was originally released on February 1, 2021 as a part of our on going series titled: Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
Written by the Staff of The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission

Perhaps you have driven past Jesse Clipper Square on the corner of Michigan and William Streets and thought, that looks like a nice little park. Maybe you remember seeing a blurb on the news a couple years ago about the park dedication ceremony, or perhaps you have even stopped there to enjoy a couple minutes of sunshine.

But who was Jesse Clipper?

Like so many posthumously famous individuals, Clipper is best known for his death. A World War I Hero, Clipper was the first African American to die in the war from Buffalo, NY. 

Clipper was born in 1882 in Salt Lake City, UT.  While not much is known about his childhood, Jesse, along with his wife and musical partner Della Fox Clipper, became well-known as vocalists and the duo was dubbed "The Two Clippers."

Jesse Clipper.jpg

Eventually, Jesse made his way to Buffalo, NY.  Here he became known as a dedicated worker, having found employment at a laundry and as a waiter while pursuing his musical career on the side.


In 1915 he was listed as living at 475 Michigan Street, just a couple of blocks from the historic Michigan Street Baptist Church. He was involved in the founding of the Colored Musicians Club Local No. 533, servicing as their Vice-President in 1917. It was here that Clipper began to make a name for himself as a talented singer and dancer.

In 1916 Clipper married Miss. Edna Mercer. The young couple was presumably excited to settle into married life when Clipper was drafted into the war and sent to the front in France. He was hospitalized a couple of times, his gallant efforts allowing him to rise to the rank of Corporal. Unfortunately, he  would succumb to injuries sustained in 1919 after being gassed on the front. 


Jesse Clipper died on February 21, 1919 and is buried in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in the French Providence of Picardie. As of 1930, Mrs. Clipper was still waiting to visit her husband's grave. It is unknown if she ever got there. 

Thank you to our sources:

We want to give a special thank Reverend Paulette Woods, Past Commander of Jesse Clipper American Legion Post #430, and author of various Jesse Clipper articles. We also want to thank Uncrowned Community BuildersSlow Roll Buffalo, and the Buffalo News for providing the information for this story. Further readings on Jesse Clipper are available on their websites.

If you have additional resources about Jesse Clipper, please email us to let us know!

Do you have an idea of who we should include in our series?

Email us with your suggestions!

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