U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker today joined their Senate colleagues in unanimously approving legislation to redesignate the Clifford Davis Federal Building in Memphis as the “Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building.” The bill, which was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Cohen and supported by the entire Tennessee Congressional delegation, passed the House on March 26. Senators Alexander and Corker introduced identical legislation in the Senate. It now goes to the President for his signature.
“The decision to keep the names of both men on the building is a symbol of the transition of Memphis and across the South,” Alexander said. “It reminds us that America is committed to equal opportunity but has been, and will be for a long time, a work in progress.”
Added Corker: “Judge Horton was a great public servant, and I am very pleased that he is being honored in this important way. His service as a Marine, as a civil rights pioneer, and as a respected judge had tremendous impact on the Memphis community and our state, and it is very appropriate that he is being memorialized in this way.”
Horton, the first black U.S. District Court judge in Tennessee since Reconstruction, 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.