U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker today introduced legislation to redesignate the Clifford Davis Federal Building in Memphis as the “Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building.”
“Keeping the names of both men is a symbol of the transition of Memphis and across the South,” Alexander said on the Senate floor. “It reminds us that our nation is committed to equal opportunity but has been, and is, and will be for a long time, a work in progress.”
Mirroring a House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and supported by the entire Tennessee Congressional delegation, the bill honors Judge Odell Horton. Horton was the first black U.S. District Court judge appointed in Tennessee since Reconstruction, who was appointed by President Carter on May 12, 1980 and then served as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee from 1987 through 1993. (Clifford Davis represented the Memphis area in Congress from 1940 through 1965.)
“I remember those days of transition very well,” Alexander said. “Odell Horton was a real pioneer who came at a time of transition in Memphis. He said he grew up in a ‘typically rural Southern and typically segregated environment, with all the consequences of that’.”
After graduating from high school in 1946, Horton enlisted in the Marine Corps, graduated from Morehouse College, and served a second tour of duty in the Marines during the Korean War. After his discharge, he earned a law degree at Howard University. In 1956, he opened his law practice on Beale Street in Memphis, then served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, as director of Memphis city hospitals, as a judge on the Shelby County Criminal Court, as President of LeMoyne-Owen College, and as a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge.
Judge Horton died on February 22, 2006.