FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Mourners gathered inside Fayetteville's First Baptist Church on Wednesday for the funeral of their associate minister, the Reverend Clifford Layton.
He was born in Dunn in 1929, the fourth of nine children. Layton was also a sports pioneer who pitched for Negro League teams before the integration of Major League Baseball.
"He talked about the challenges that he faced being in the league -- and how they were basically ostracized and had to develop their own league -- and how he took the opportunity to make the best of that," Jimmie Powell said.
Layton's family moved from North Carolina to Montclair, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1940s. By 1944, he was pitching and playing in the Negro League, starting with the Raleigh Tigers and eventually playing for teams like the Indianapolis Clowns and the New York Black Yankees.
"I don't like to talk about my ability to play baseball," Layton said in a 2022 ABC11 interview. "But I believe that I was one of the best players to step onto the field. Absolutely!"
His death on August 1 came within days of an announcement by MLB of a game that will honor the Negro Leagues and its players next year. The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants will face each other on historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, the nation's oldest ballpark that hosted Negro League games.
Layton, who also played for the Negro League's Raleigh Tigers, retired from pro ball in 1960. He's in the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame.