Seaford salutes first minority police officer, hired in 1950

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 2/22/24

Born in March 1952, Cliffonia Gaines has no recollection of her father’s pioneering two-year tenure with the Seaford Police Department more than 70 years ago.

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Seaford salutes first minority police officer, hired in 1950


SEAFORD — Born in March 1952, Cliffonia Gaines has no recollection of her father’s pioneering two-year tenure with the Seaford Police Department more than 70 years ago.

Nevertheless, on Jan. 9, Ms. Gaines and more than a dozen other family members joined city and law enforcement officials to formally recognize Clifford Russell Jackson, an African American, as Seaford Police Department’s first minority officer.

Fittingly, the date was the 74th anniversary of when Mr. Jackson was sworn in as a Seaford policeman by then-Chief George Washington Bowden, grandfather of Jim Bowden, a noted Seaford historian who has been uncovering extensive research on this topic.

Officer Jackson served with the agency from 1950-52.

All these years later, Mr. Bowden said the account is a “feel-good story for Black History Month. It’s a good thing.”

There is now an Officer Jackson shadow box, created by the archivist, on display in the main hallway of the department’s administrative wing. It includes a 1950s-era Seaford police badge, shoulder patch and nightstick.

Current Deputy Chief Michael Rapa acknowledged Mr. Bowden, calling him the department’s “unofficial historian.”

“He came across this information and said, ‘Let me do something.’ He actually did everything. He did the history. He built the shadow box and had a rendering commissioned. He couldn’t find a picture of Officer Jackson in his uniform, (so,) he had it commissioned based off what the uniform was then and then a picture of him,” he said.

During his research, Mr. Bowden discovered that:

  • Officer Jackson was assigned to foot patrol in the east Seaford area.
  • In a letter to the Seaford Leader newspaper within weeks of Officer Jackson’s swearing in, Mr. and Mrs. Ollie Watson commended the mayor and City Council for hiring him and said the pick was “a wise one,” that lawlessness had already decreased 75% and that the area continued to improve daily.
  • The citizens of east Seaford were so thrilled that, by February 1950, they got Officer Jackson a car to patrol in — “a Red 4 door sedan big enough for a riot squad to get in,” according to Wright Robinson, a Seaford newspaper editor of the era.

The officer’s family is pleased by the recent kudos.

“It is an honor to know that he was well liked,” said Ms. Gaines. “He was a nut. He loved to have fun. But, when he was serious, he was serious. But I remember him not as a police officer.”

Deputy Chief Rapa spoke of the significance of Officer Jackson being hired.

“We can all agree: (In) 1950, that wasn’t the norm for that day and age,” he said. “(It) also wasn’t the norm (that) where the city swore him in, that part of Seaford wasn’t incorporated. A portion of that was not incorporated, but there were people, they had a lot of issues there. The city took it upon themselves to do something about this.”

Upon leaving the police department in 1952, Officer Jackson moved to the Wilmington area and continued in law enforcement.

“He had his own K-9. He trained dogs for the police department up in Wilmington,” said Ms. Gaines.

Her father passed away in February 1972.

For his part, Mr. Bowden was working on another project when his interest was stirred by an old police department brochure.

“It showed my grandfather as being the first chief of police, (which) I knew ... wasn’t true,” he said. “I spent many, many months going through the old bound books at City Hall. I was challenged with knowing that my grandfather wasn’t the very first chief of police in Seaford. He was like the seventh.”

After completing those other projects, he had one last “first” to track down.

“I always had this on my bucket list. This was the last item that I had. I came across that Clifford Jackson had been the first (minority) officer, sworn in by my grandfather,” Mr. Bowden said.

“I thought that worthy of further research. Over the years, I have been in contact with the family. I made sure the family was onboard on how it was presented.”

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