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Jesse Wallace Clipper

He was born in Salt Lake City, UT. He was accomplished in the area of the Arts. He later died on 2-21-1919.
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Jesse Clipper became a hero and a Buffalo, New York legend as the first African American from the region to die in World War I. Jesse Clipper was born in April 1882 in Salt Lake City, Utah. By the age of 18, he was living in Hanford, California, a small town two hours away from San Jose, California. In 1907 he was living in Oakland, California working as a vocalist.

Jesse married the former Della Tanner (Fox) on October 3, 1909, at age 19. The 1910 census records the couple living in Tacoma, Washington with Al and Ida Tanner, Della's father, and step-mother. Both are listed as having professions as entertainers. Jesse and Della performed as the Two Clippers and were said to have drawn large crowds and were responsible for standing room only at every performance. Jesse and Della made appearances throughout the country and were regularly billed in the entertainment section of the papers; Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Chicago, etc.

The management of the Gather Theater in Cincinnati, for example, said they were a hit with the song: "Rubbernecking Moon". They also sang, "The Indian Rag"; "Some of these Days"; and "All The Little Lovin that I had for you is Gone! Gone! Gone!" Illness forced Della to stop performing, however. She died at her home at 6119 South I Street, Tacoma, Washington on November 11, 1914. She was 23 years, 3 months and 11 days old.

By 1915, Jesse had moved to Buffalo. The City Directory for that year listed him as living at 475 Michigan Street. Also, he was working as a waiter. In 1917, he lived at Potter Street. Clipper worked at the American Palace Laundry before he was drafted into the army. According to his contemporaries, he was a pleasant young man and a good worker. He maintained his involvement in Buffalo's musical community. Before service to his country, Jesse Clipper served as Vice-President of Colored Musicians Local No. 533 in 1917.

A Buffalo News article, published on May 2, 1968, noted that "Pvt. Jesse Clipper of the 317th Engineers was wounded at the front in France. He was hospitalized for several weeks. When the wounds healed, he returned to his outfit. Soon afterward he was gassed. After another long stay in the hospital, he received orders to return to the United States. But before he could be brought home, he landed in the hospital again. There he died in 1919." Clipper was listed as having achieved the rank of Corporal at the time of his death. Clipper was buried in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, a French cemetery in northern France, the Picardie Province.

Jesse married a second time, while he was in Buffalo. An announcement in the Indianapolis Freeman of November 1916 referenced an African American vaudeville group, the Heart of Dixie, whose members attended the "October 10, 1916 marriage of Jesse Clipper to Miss Edna Mercer, a non-professional, at Buffalo, NY." Mrs. Clipper never remarried and remained in Buffalo. She was listed by her dead husband's name in City Directories for the rest of her life. In a volume listing survivors of WWI soldiers, the Mother's Pilgrimage - 1929, Edna was listed as planning to visit her husband's grave site in 1930. It's not known whether she ever had the opportunity to travel to France.

The Jesse Clipper American Legion Post 430 was founded by fifteen Black World War I veterans on September 16, 1919. The first Commander was Mosby B. McAden. The group petitioned the Buffalo Common Council to establish a monument in honor of Clipper and all Black soldiers. The petition to the Common Council from Jesse Clipper Post 430, American Legion stated: "Be it resolved: that we the members of Jesse Clipper Post 430, American Legion, having the progress, civic betterment and beautification of the City of Buffalo uppermost in our hearts, and being desirous of paying further tribute to that Negro soldier for whom our post has been named, and being anxious to honor all of our fellow men and women who have so valiantly served our country during periods of major strife, namely, War of Revolution, War of 1812, Spanish-American War and World War, do humbly petition the Common Council of the City of Buffalo for permission to erect a memorial bearing suitable inscription, in Jesse Clipper Square."

The group dedicated the Jesse Clipper Square at Michigan and William Streets on May 30, 1935. A monument was erected in honor of Jesse Clipper and all the war heroes of World War I as a result of the advocacy and fundraising of members of the Jesse Clipper Post. Since the initial dedication of the monument, the dates of other wars, in which Blacks fought have been added.

Note: Photos of French Cemetery where Clipper is buried, courtesy of Rev. Eugene Pierce, Sr.