Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks on the Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building

Posted on March 9, 2007

Mr. President, today I am introducing a bill to rename the Federal building in Memphis as the Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building. My colleague Senator Corker is a cosponsor. It is the same legislation that was introduced in the House of Representatives by our new Representative Steve Cohen, and it is cosponsored by the rest of the House delegation, both Republicans and Democrats. Representative Cohen's bill, H.R. 753, was approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on March 1 and awaits further action by the full House. Judge Horton has a remarkable legacy. He was the first African-American federal district court judge appointed in Tennessee since Reconstruction. He was recommended by former Senator Jim Sasser and appointed by President Carter on May 12, 1980. I remember those days of transition very well. It was in that same year that I was Governor of Tennessee. I appointed the first African-American supreme court justice in Tennessee, Judge George Brown, who served with distinction. At that time, there had not been an African-American chancellor, which is one of our lower court's State judges. I appointed Irwin Kilcrease to that position, and he served with a distinguished record and retired only within the last couple of years. Judge Horton was a real pioneer who came at a time of transition in Memphis, where he lived, and in our state's history. He served as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee from January 1, 1987, until December 31, 1993. Odell Horton was born in Bolivar, TN, just outside of Memphis, on May 13, 1929. He said he grew up in a "typically rural Southern and typically segregated [environment], with all of the attendant consequences of that.” At about the same time, growing up maybe 40 miles away was a young man named Alex Haley who would sit on the front porch of his grandparents' home and listen to his great-aunt tell stories of Kunta Kinte, which ultimately became the story of "Roots." Odell Horton's father was a laborer. His mother took in laundry. His first job at the age of 6 was delivering laundry for his mom. He and his three siblings also picked cotton, stacked lumber, and took other odd jobs. After high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He enrolled in Morehouse College using the GI bill. He served with the Marines during the Korean war. He graduated from the U.S. Navy School of Journalism. After the Marines, he earned a law degree from Howard University, and after graduating from Howard Law School in 1956, he moved to Memphis and rented a one-room office on Beale Street -- the music street of Memphis -- and opened his own law practice. He did that for 5 years. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney after that. In 1968, he was director of the city's hospitals, making him the only Black division director at city hall at that time. He served as judge on the Shelby County Criminal Court. He was a commentator on a local television station. He ran for district attorney general in 1974, narrowly losing the primary, at that time considered a very strong showing by an African-American candidate in a county that today has an African-American mayor of Memphis and an African-American mayor of Shelby County. He was a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge before being appointed as a U.S. district judge by President Carter. He was married to his wife Evie for 50 years, with two sons, Odell, Jr., and Christopher. He died on February 22, 2006. I commend Representative Cohen for his bill to rename the Clifford Davis Federal Building to the Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building. Representative Davis was a Congressman who served in the House of Representatives from 1940 to 1965. He was one of those five Congressmen in the U.S. Capitol when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire from the visitors' balcony in the Chamber. He was shot in the leg at the time. Keeping both names on the Federal building is symbolic of the transition that took place in Memphis and across the South during Odell's lifetime and my lifetime and reminds us that our country is committed to equal opportunity, but it has been and is and will be for a long time a work in progress. Odell Horton is one of the finest examples of that work in progress. Having his name on a Federal building will remind all of us of that.