Dr. Archer A. Claytor was one of Saginaw’s outstanding black citizens of all time and a productive civic leader who left the mark of his good works everywhere in the community.
With his wife, Dr. Claytor, a gentle, mild-mannered physician whose friends numbered all races and religious creeds throughout the city, was brutally murdered in their Buena Vista Township home on the night of February 2, 1967. The motive, if there was one for the senseless carnage, eluded investigators. The Saginaw community sustained one of its greatest shocks. The Claytors were held in great respect.
Archer Adams Claytor was born December 2, 1893, in Cooper Hill, Virginia, of parents who had been slaves. He was the 11th of 13 children. His mother could read and write. His father could do neither, although he became the operator of a 250-acre farm. All 13 children received an education and taught in the public school system with a Virginia state teacher’s certificate. Three received degrees in higher education. Three, including Saginaw’s Dr. Claytor, became physicians, one a dentist.
Dr. Archer Claytor served overseas in World War I as an infantry private, first class. In 1923 he was graduated from Temple University with a degree in pharmacy. He practiced pharmacy five years before entering Northwestern University for pre-medical training. In 1934 he received his medical degree at Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee. He interned at Provident Hospital, Chicago, and spent his residency at Parkside Hospital in Detroit.
He came to Saginaw in 1936 as a family physician. Originally, most of his practice was in northeast Saginaw, with its teeming overcrowded black population, most of the men having come here to work in the big foundries. Gently, he helped many with their family problems as well as ministering to their medical needs. His competence and understanding as a family physician quickly spread to all parts of the city. White families welcomed his professional visits as well.
In his more than 30 years of practice Dr. Claytor delivered more than 5,000 babies. Many were home deliveries performed with his characteristic calmness despite primitive circumstances. Chuckling, he recalled 1952 as his bonanza year on the three-cornered pant front. He delivered Saginaw’s first baby of that year. Three weeks later he helped triplets into the world. Then came a set of twins and two days after that another set of twins. But obstetrics alone didn’t keep him one of Saginaw’s busiest doctors. For years he was one of the city’s foremost general practitioners. For several years he had the most patients in Saginaw General Hospital. He also had been high on the list of doctors with the most patients annually in St. Mary’s Hospital.
As a member of all general hospital staffs in Saginaw, Dr. Claytor was applauded for his generosity with his teaching time. Many a young intern or resident benefited from counsel and encouragement Dr. Claytor always gave willingly.
One of Dr. Claytor’s highest honors came in 1959 when he was named “Michigan’s Foremost Family Physician.” The award came as a feature of the Michigan State Medical Society’s 94th annual convention. Dr. Claytor was the first Saginaw physician to win the honorary title and the first black to be so honored since the award was initiated in 1947. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Claytor gave the assembled doctors something to think about. He said that many medical schools (in 1959 and before) had an “unwritten law” whereby only a limited number—if any —members of minority groups would be admitted to study, despite qualifications. He also said many hospitals similarly had an “unwritten law” which kept qualified graduate doctors from interning or taking up a residency in them because of their race or creed. He said such discrimination was less than when he was trying to become a doctor, but he called for its elimination. His speech took off some skin but it was listened to.
In 1958, President Eisenhower appointed Claytor to a six-year term as a director of the Virgin Islands Corporation. The occasion was duly noted in Saginaw when recognition dinners were given in his honor.
For many years, Dr. Claytor was a director of the First Ward Community Center, that haven of fun, athletic training and organized play and useful direction for disadvantaged youth. He served as the Community Center’s president from 1955-58. He enjoyed the job and approached it with enthusiasm and intensity. While there, he helped straighten the thinking of more than one young person, and proudly watched them learning to walk the straight path. He was an early leader on the Saginaw Housing Commission. He was a commissioner in the dawning of real racial strife and the frequent flare-ups of trouble in the public housing projects. His temperate thinking eased many a hectic situation. Literally, he was the strong man on the commission without showing his muscle. He also served on the Saginaw Community Chest directorate.
Dr. Claytor was listed in Who’s Who in the Black World. In 1970 he became the first black elected to the Saginaw Hall of Fame. In 1968, a Buena Vista School was dedicated in his honor and named for him. A branch library of the Saginaw Public Libraries also was named for him. The Claytor Park in Buena Vista Township also honors him.
Dr. Claytor married Marie Virginia Walden in 1940 in Flint. They had two daughters. Dr. Claytor was 74 when he was slain.