Vermont Black History Month

Pathologist, biochemist Jackson Clemmons

Lydia and Jackson Clemmons

Republished from Vermont Historical Society Black History Database

Celebrated pathologist and biochemist Jackson Clemmons moved to Vermont in 1962 where he joined the faculty of the UVM Medical College. He was only the second African-American on the medical school faculty. With his wife Lydia, he bought, restored, and worked a farm in Charlotte – now the non-profit Clemmons Family Farm.

Born in Beloit, Wisconsin, Jackson Clemmons attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, earning a BS, MS, and PhD in biochemistry. As the first African American student in the biochemistry department, he paved the way for young African American scientists and premedical students to follow.

During his schooling, Clemmons worked as a research assistant, associate, or fellow in laboratories including the University of Wisconsin, the Karolinska Institute of Biophysics and Cell Research in Stockholm, and the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York. At the University of Wisconsin, Clemmons worked with Karl Paul Link as a laboratory assistant involved in the development of the anticoagulants Dicoumarol and Warfarin.

After completing his doctorate, Clemmons enrolled in Western Reserve University School of Medicine, receiving his Doctor of Medicine in 1961. He won two American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellowships as well as a highly competitive Helen Hay Whitney Fellowship, which he utilized for research at both Western Reserve and at the University of Vermont Medical School, where he was appointed an assistant professor of pathology in 1962.

At UVM, Dr. Clemmons often designed and built his own research equipment. As a pathologist and the second African American on the UVM medical school faculty, he advocated for recruitment strategies to attract and retain more students and faculty of color. He served as an advisor to several national institutes, including the Agency of Housing and Urban Development and the National Institutes of Health.

When he and his wife Lydia, a nurse anesthetist, arrived in Vermont in 1962 they purchased a 148-acre farm in Charlotte. Friends, family, and colleagues questioned this purchase and lifestyle choice, but over time, the property became a center for community and a rich environment for their five children. Doctor and Mrs. Clemmons served as co-presidents of the Charlotte Central School PTA, and Dr. Clemmons served as school director and as vice chair of the Champlain Valley Union High School board. Together Doctor and Mrs. Clemmons travelled and volunteered in hospitals and medical centers throughout Africa from 1984 to 2005 and pursued their love of learning about the art and cultures of the continent.

Currently in transition from a private holding to a nonprofit, the Clemmons Family Farm features six historic buildings dating to the late 1700s and mid-1800s, all beautifully improved and hand-restored over five decades by Dr. Clemmons—whose grandfather taught him the skills of the carpentry trade—and a small team of local artisans.