Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressman Cohen Designates the Federal Building in Memphis, Tennessee, as the Clifford Davis and O

March 25, 2007
Floor Statements


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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

H.R. 753, sponsored by the entire Tennessee delegation of both the House and the Senate, is to designate the Federal building in Memphis, Tennessee, located at 167 North Main Street as the Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building.

Judge Odell Horton was appointed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by President Jimmy Carter on May 12, 1980. He was brought to the attention of President Carter by then-Senator Jim Sasser and through a proposal by Lieutenant Governor John Wilder who represented the district that Judge Horton grew up in Bolivar, Tennessee.

Judge Horton in 1980 was the first African American Federal judge appointed to the bench in Tennessee since Reconstruction. He has many firsts as an African American, but he has more regard simply as an outstanding jurist, attorney, soldier and human being.

He was born May 13, 1929, in Bolivar, Tennessee, and grew up during the Depression and the Second World War. His father was a laborer and his mother took in laundry. The children, four boys and a girl, picked cotton, stacked lumber, and took other odd jobs to make ends meet.

Judge Horton graduated from Bolivar High School in 1946 and enlisted in the Marine Corps ``as a vehicle to find a way out of Bolivar.'' After an early discharge, he enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, using Federal aid under the GI bill to finance his tuition. The Korean War was under way by the time he graduated in 1951, and he returned for a second tour with the Marines. After a second tour, during which he graduated from the U.S. Navy School of Journalism, Horton entered Howard University Law School in Washington, DC. He received his degree from Howard in 1956, then moved to Memphis to begin private practice in a one-room office upstairs at 145 Beale Street in Memphis, the legendary Beale Street in Memphis.

He served in private practice for 5 years from 1957 until 1962 and then was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney in Memphis. After being Assistant U.S. Attorney, he served in other capacities. First of all, during Mayor Henry Lobe's city administration, he was the first African American member of that administration, head of health and hospitals. That was a tumultuous time in Memphis' history. During that time, Dr. King was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and we will observe that tragedy soon in Memphis. But Judge Horton, as an African American, had a difficult task. As such, he ordered the desegregation of the Bowld Hospital which was the public hospital. That was a great thing that he did in bringing Memphis forward.

A year after he did that in 1968, he received the L.M. Graves Memorial Health Award for his efforts to advance the cause of health care in Memphis. He later became a criminal court judge appointed by then-Governor Buford Ellington. After serving on the criminal court bench, he went on to serve as president of LeMoyne-Owen College, an historically black college in Memphis, a liberal arts school where he served for 4 years from 1970 to 1974.

In 1974, Judge Horton ran for Shelby County district attorney general. Although he lost by just about 4,000 votes, he came very close, and it was a historic election that set a precedent for other individuals running for office and being elected on their merits and not based on their race. He received over 23 percent of the Caucasian vote, which was unheard of at the time, and it showed the respect that he had from all sections of the community.

He returned to Federal service after being at LeMoyne-Owen and after having unsuccessfully sought the DA's job as reporter for the Speedy Trial Act Implementation Committee by the Western District Court. After that, he served as a U.S. bankruptcy judge from 1976 to 1980. Then he received the appointment from President Carter. Then from January 1, 1987, until December 31, 1993, he served as the chief judge for the Western District of Tennessee. On May 16, 1995, he took senior judge status, and 2 years later closed his Memphis office.

He is remembered in Memphis as a calm and patient judge who carefully and deliberately explained legal concepts to jurors. He was a model for judges because of his judicial temperament and set a standard in such regards. Judge Horton and his wife, Evie Randolf, were married for over 50 years and have two sons, Odell Horton, Jr., and Christopher, who graduated from his alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta. Judge Horton's widow spoke for so many in his profession and personal life when she stated after his death, ``He was a rare and precious jewel in the crown of humanity and made all of our lives richer and better because he passed this way.'' Indeed, Mrs. Horton was correct.

Judge Horton received many honors for his work from different bar associations and institutions. He was a member of the American Bar Association and Chair of the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges. He served as a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services, and Morehouse College awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

In the year 2000, the Memphis Bar Association awarded Judge Horton with a Public Service Award. He died February 22, 2006. In honor of Judge Horton's significant contributions to the legal community in Memphis and his pioneering career, it is both fitting and proper to designate the courthouse located at 167 North Main Street in Memphis as the Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building.

As Senator Alexander mentioned on the Senate floor, it is appropriate that this building have both the names of Judge Horton, a great pioneer of the latter half of the 20th century, and Clifford Davis, who was part of the first half of the 20th century, served as United States Congressman from 1940 to 1965. It shows a continuum of history, a growth of history, and history is a process. The naming of this building for Judge Horton as well as former Congressman Clifford Davis shows progress in Memphis, progress in race relations, and progress among human beings. Accordingly, I ask for unanimous passage of the bill.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.