Even though she graduated at the top of her class at Douglass High School, Betty Cleckley could not attend the racially segregated Marshall University, so she continued her education at Marquette University and Smith College, earning Bachelor and master’s degrees in social work. She also completed her Ph.D. from Brandeis University and a postdoctoral certificate in Higher Education Management from Howard University. She was an Associate Dean in the School of Social Work at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before moving on to Nashville’s Meharry Medical College. She also worked as the Director of the Black College Initiative at the Agency of Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration in Washington, D. C. She returned to Huntington and Marshall University in 1989 becoming the first African American female to hold an administrative position at the University as the Vice President of the newly created Office of Multicultural Affairs. She created this office to provide diversity on campus and as a home away from home for minority students. She established countless programs, initiative, and scholarships and established the Carter. G. Woodson Fellowship, which included money to recruit, train, hire and retain Black faculty members. When she retired, she was working to establish The Harmony Institute, her brainchild, which she had raised almost $70,000 to start. The Institute would work to begin the process of healing from racism by recognizing it and working to eradicate it on campus and in the broader community.
She was active in many civic and professional organizations including Alpha Kapp Alpha Sorority and LINKS. She was described by Marshall University Jerome Gilbert as ‘a lifelong advocate for social justice and the voice for those who often felt unable to speak for themselves’.