Artist-activist Fred J. Clifton was born in Dunham, Kentucky on December 23, 1934, and was educated in West Virginia, where his family moved when he was a child. One of ten children, he served in the Marines in the Korean War, after which he attended the University of Buffalo; graduating with a degree in philosophy. He also attended graduate school as a John Hay Whitney Fellow and New York State Regents Fellow. He met his wife, the former Lucille Sayles, while a student at UB; they married in 1958.
Clifton taught at the University of Buffalo and later at Harvard University, where he helped establish the Afro-American Studies department in the early 1960’s. He and his family moved to Baltimore in 1967 to establish the federal Job Corps program, and later trained Volunteers in Service To America (VISTA). He worked as an educational consultant for such organizations as the American Institute of Planners, the U.S. Department of education, the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
In 1972, he was Co-Chairman of the Maryland delegation to the National Black Political Convention in Gary, IN, where over four thousand elected officials and community leaders gathered to produce an agenda for both the Democratic and Republican conventions that summer. That year Mr. Clifton, who wrote reviews for The New York Times and for scholarly journals, also published his young adult novel “Darl”, the story of a young black boy’s correspondence with is teacher.
In 1974, as administrator at the East Baltimore Community Corporation, he chaired the state delegation to the second National Black Political Convention in Little Rock, AR. The group developed strategies to implement recommendations made at the Gary convention.
Fred Clifton died in his Dickeyville, MD home on November 10, 1984. He was 49 years old.