(This is the final in our series of Clarksville Faces of Black History profiles for Black History Month.)
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – James A. Halford Jr., a natural leader who grew up on Carpenter Street in Clarksville’s Red River District, has used intelligence, drive and good fortune to climb a variety of career ladders.
Adjectives such as “first, one of a select few, and highest-ranking” are found in front of “African-American” throughout his impressive record of leadership positions.
Today, for example, he’s Clarksville’s first African-American Chief of Staff , serving as staff leader and top adviser to Mayor Joe Pitts.
“This job is the culmination of a lot of steps, and a lot of leadership positions,” Halford said. “My career was not something that was heavily planned, but I prepared myself for service, and when doors opened, I was ready.”
Academically gifted, Halford graduated No. 3 in the Burt High Class of 1970. Growing up, he was interested in entrepreneurship and owning a business. He found success with door-to-door sales from catalogs of items such as Christmas cards and shoes. He was a gifted musician, playing the saxophone and trombone in the high school band, and later playing lead guitar in a popular R&B and jazz band, Soul LTD, with his brothers.
Halford was offered a scholarship to attend Princeton University, but decided to study business at Tennessee State University on a full academic and music scholarship. While at TSU he joined the Air Force ROTC program, and earned another scholarship that put him on a path to flight school and a career as an Air Force pilot and flight instructor.
At Craig AFB in Selma, Ala., he was one of a select few Black instructor pilots.
“I passed the Edmund Pettus Bridge nearly every day,” Halford said of his time in Selma. “And every time, I thought of the Bloody Sunday attack on marchers and its significance in the Civil Rights struggle.”
Later, he was assigned to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., where he was part of a blue-chip unit that flew President Jimmy Carter’s family members and high-ranking government officials -- such as Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and UN Ambassador Andrew Young -- to destinations across the country.
“More than once, while piloting a Sabreliner jet with someone like Ambassador Young aboard,” Halford recalls, “ I’d look around and think to myself, ‘Wow, this is a long way from Clarksville, and quite an unexpected role for a kid from Carpenter Street.’ ”
During his six years at Andrews, Capt. Halford completed his Master’s of Business Management at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Then he decided to leave the Air Force and put his MBA to work as a Systems Analyst for General Electric in Springfield, Va. Soon, in 1982, with a Management Analyst job at Fort Campbell calling, he and wife, Patricia, and their children, Kellee and Patrick, packed their belongings and headed back home to Clarksville.
At Fort Campbell, Halford found success managing Army program privatization efforts, and gained extensive experience in systems and organizational analysis, strategic planning and management, and leadership development. Ultimately, as Director of Strategic Planning at Fort Campbell, Halford was responsible for planning, developing, and deploying the garrison’s strategic plan and strategy.
Ever eager to grow and improve, Halford also is a graduate of Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management Leadership Development program. Additionally, he is a certified quality and planning facilitator, conducting seminars on a variety of business and management subjects, and has served as member of the University of Phoenix online faculty.
Halford also accepted leadership positions at his church and in the community. He’s been a Deacon at Fifth Ward Missionary Baptist Church for decades, and served as treasurer and other church leadership positions through the years.
In the community, Halford has served on the Clarksville-Montgomery County Airport Authority Board of Directors and has been a member of the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Clinic board since 2012. He also has served on the Clarksville Housing Authority and the Clarksville Human Rights Commission.
It was during a time of confusion and controversy over a plan to redevelop the Red River District in the early 2000s that Halford met Joe Pitts, Economic Development Director for then-Mayor Don Trotter.
“I went to some meetings, on behalf of people in the old neighborhood,” Halford said. “I had some questions, and Joe was willing to talk and explain and offer some answers. We became friends and stayed in touch. I served on the Matthew Walker board with Cynthia Pitts, and our families got to know each other. When Joe got serious about running for Mayor, he asked me to help, and said if we won, he wanted me to be his chief of staff.”
Mayor Pitts and James Halford have proven to be steady, hard-working and effective teammates over their two-plus years at City Hall.
“James has been a trusted friend for more than a dozen years, and he was a natural choice for Chief of Staff,” Mayor Pitts said. “He has held important positions in government and the military, and he’s been a dedicated leader in a number of Clarksville organizations. James continues to do a great job as our Chief of Staff.”
Boyhood days: With his father and two brothers.
In the Air Force.