Rhode Island District Court Judge William C. Clifton, a witty, wise and much respected jurist, and one of the very few African-Americans to serve as a judge in the state judiciary, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 75.
When Clifton was appointed to the bench in 2004, he was one of just four minority judges in the Rhode Island court system. The other minority judges at the time were Clifton’s brother, Edward Clifton, who recently retired from the state Superior Court and William Clifton’s wife, Rogeriee Thompson, a onetime state Superior Court judge who now sits on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Clifton is the second prominent African-American Rhode Island judge to die since September, 2017, when his friend and colleague, Superior Court Judge Walter Stone died.
A civil rights activist and former president of the Providence Chapter of the NAACP, Clifton was raised in Texas during the days of segregation. “I lived the American nightmare of second-class citizenship and segregation,” Clifton told the Senate Judiciary Committee during hearings on his nomination. “Yet, I also accomplished the American Dream: I worked hard, I studied hard and made something of myself. That paradox kind of shapes me and keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
Clifton was a graduate of the University of California Los Angeles Law School.
Just two African-Americans remain on the Rhode Island stat bench: Judge Melissa Long of the RI Superior Court and Rossie Lee Harris of the Family Court. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Calling hours are on Wednesday from 4 until 7 p.m. at the Perry-McStay Funeral Home in East Providence. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Rhodes-on-the Pawtuxet in Cranston.