Jesse W. Clipper was working as a singer and dancer in Buffalo, New York before he was drafted into the Army for World War I. Unfortunately, he never made it home from that war as he died on February 21, 1919, some three months after the war ended in November 1918.
“His death certificate says he died from pleurisy and pneumonia, and it is believed that was caused by him being gassed by the Germans,” ordained minister Rev. Eugene L. Pierce, who also served in the Army, told Buffalo News recently.
Today, Clippers is remembered as the first Black from Buffalo who sacrificed his life in the First World War. But not much is known about the family background of Clipper. What is known is that he was born in 1882 in Salt Lake City, UT before making his way to Buffalo in 1915, a year after his wife, Della Clipper, a professional singer, died.
“They had performed together as the ‘Two Clippers.’ He was a singer and a dancer, and they had a vaudeville act. After coming to Buffalo, he joined the Colored Musicians Club. Because blacks were not allowed to join the musicians local and could not get the good-paying union jobs, he and other black musicians formed the Colored Musicians Club Local 533, and Jesse was vice president,” Pierce said.
Clipper worked at the American Palace laundry before he was drafted into the army. However, in the 1915 City Directory, he was listed as living at 475 Michigan Street, working as a waiter while pursuing his musical career on the side. In 1916, Clipper married Miss. Edna Mercer and it is believed that he was drafted into the war and sent to the front in France not too long after their marriage.
Clipper was hospitalized a number of times during the war but thanks to his bravery, he achieved the rank of Corporal. Sadly, he died of injuries he sustained in 1919 after being gassed on the front.
A Buffalo News article, published on May 2, 1968, notes that “Pvt. Jesse Clipper of the 317th Engineers, was wounded at the front in France. Clipper actually was listed as having achieved the rank of Corporal at the time of his death. He was hospitalized several weeks. When the wounds healed, he returned to his outfit. Soon afterwards 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 buried in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in the French Providence of Picardie. More than 6,000 Americans are buried there. As of 1930, Clipper’s wife was still waiting to visit her husband’s grave. It is not known if she ever got there.
Meanwhile, the Jesse Clipper American Legion Post 430 on Buffalo’s East Side, which was founded by fifteen Black World War I veterans on September 16, 1919, petitioned the Buffalo Common Council to establish a monument in honor of Clipper and all Black soldiers.
The petition to the Common Council from the group 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.”
In May 1935, the American Legion post, namesaked for Clipper, dedicated the Jesse Clipper Square at Michigan and William Streets. A monument was erected in honor of Clipper and other World War I heroes.