Editor's note: Throughout its history, Harford County has been conflicted when it comes to its citizens' attitudes about racial equality and the relationship between its white and black communities. Sharply divided over the issue of slavery before, during and after the Civil War, divisions remain in 2012. While the county was home to Maryland's first school for freed slaves, it was also one of the last in the state to desegregate its public schools, waiting until the mid-1960s, a full decade after the Supreme Court outlawed the practice. Though the county had a substantial number of free black residents even before slavery was ended, almost 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Harford has elected exactly one African American to a countywide office, has never sent an African American to the state legislature, has had just one African American judge and only one African American has served in the top three administrative positions of the school system - although today a record number of African Americans - three - are serving on the Harford County Board of Education. This is not to say, however, that there have been many people, black and white, vocally and quietly, who have gradually helped break down the barrier of racial prejudice. The following is a story of one of our black community's pioneers, composed by someone who knows him well. As Black History Month comes to a close, we think our readers will find this piece both enlightening and inspirational.
Starting on Feb. 1 of any given year, the worldwide black community, begins celebrating the heroes of our past and present. There are special reading and writing competitions, nationwide, as well as programs at school, the library, church and in the media. These resources bring back to life the quieted spirits that rose above the odds in a generation of segregation. Some died while still in segregation and others who made it to desegregation. But, what about the local black hero? The one who lives around you, next door, goes to your local church, works with you or even better, is a loving relative?
My black history hero is my Dad, Godfrey Herman Clayton. He is not only the best Dad in the world, in my opinion, but he was hired as the first black Parole and Probation Officer in Bel Air. Yes, Harford County hired my Dad, a proud, college graduate and military serviceman, during a time when desegregation was still a struggle for a lot of white people, especially in Main Street businesses.
Godfrey Herman Clayton received his public school education and diploma from Garnett High School in Chestertown in 1957. In the fall of 1957, Godfrey started his higher learning education at Maryland State College in Princess Anne, now known as the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. His major was business education. During his higher learning years, Godfrey was drafted into the United States Army. He served two years in the Armed Forces and returned home to complete his education at Maryland State College, where he graduated in 1966.
One of the requirements for Godfrey's chosen education field was practice teaching. He was assigned to teach business classes at one of the colored schools in Hickory, known at that time as Central Consolidated High School. He moved to Bel Air to complete this requirement. Upon completion, Godfrey worked as a substitute teacher until he accepted full time employment with The Harford Sheet Metal Company, in Bel Air, in 1966. After applying for a white collar position with the State of Maryland, Godfrey was hired as a parole and probation officer on Nov. 22, 1966. Little did my Dad know that at the moment he accepted the position, he would become a beacon of history in a nation of racial change in lifestyles and mindsets. Godfrey worked for the State of Maryland in the position of parole and probation officer, in the Bel Air office, until his retirement in July 2003.
Knowing the employees and even some of my Dad's parolees, he was well respected. He is a life member of his college fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Alumni Chapter, of Aberdeen. He is an active church member at Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air. He is also a life member of the American Legion Post 55, also in Bel Air.
After coming to Bel Air, my Dad met and married my wonderful Mother, Evelynn Peaker Clayton, who also recently retired from the Harford County Court System. Out of their union came a family of eight, my parents and six children of which I am one. Our family has grown by leaps and bounds, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and has been blessed beyond measure just to have my Dad as the head of our family!
My Dad is a part of Harford County history and should be listed in Harford County's chronicles of time as an important contributor to breaking down racial barriers, which fruited positive change for the time at hand.
I am proud of my Dad and want everyone to know his accomplishments. His humility and humbleness never allowed him to seek recognition for the facts. But, I want everyone to know that black history is every day. There are many Heroes in our midst. So many go unnoticed and unrecognized for their accomplishments because to them, it isn't something as dramatic as becoming the first African American president or the first black astronaut. So, to Harford County and beyond, may I introduce Harford County's first African American parole and probation officer, Mr. Godfrey Herman Clayton, my Dad!
— The writer, Vanessa A. Peaker lives in Edgewood. Her father and mother live in Churchville.