Name of man with Klan ties removed from federal building that now only bears name of Black judge

President Joe Biden approved HR 390, the legislation to remove Clifford Davis' name, last December.

A federal building in Memphis, Tennessee no longer bears the name of Clifford Davis, who had ties to the Ku Klux Klan

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported late last month that the building has been renamed the Odell Horton Federal Building in honor of the first Black judge to preside over West Tennessee since Reconstruction. It was previously called the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building.

“It’s hard to be able to believe the positive impact on this city and our father wanted us to say that his wife, our mother Evie, was the driving force behind the success,” Odell Horton Jr. said at the unveiling ceremony. “Our father lived by very simple Bible verse: ‘What does the Lord require you to do? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’”

As the ceremony wound down, Horton family members pulled back a curtain to reveal the new sign bearing the name of their relative. The ceremony concluded after a benediction from Max Horton, the brother of the late judge who died at the age of 76 in February 2006.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) co-authored a bill to have the name of a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan stripped from a federal building in Memphis. In this photo, Rep. Cohen speaks on June 2, 2022 during a House Judiciary Committee markup hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden approved HR 390, which was co-authored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) and intended to remove Davis’ name, last December. Cohen’s fight for the inclusion of Horton’s name on the building began after he was elected to Congress in 2007. He would have to wait for the right time to return to the matter of Davis.

“My first bill in Congress in 2007 added Judge Horton’s name to the Memphis federal building. At the time, there was insufficient support for removing Clifford Davis’ name,” Rep. Cohen said in a statement last year. 

He added, “Now that the political will is there, the courthouse where Odell Horton served as a judge will be named exclusively in his honor. It is time to remove the name of a segregationist and Klansman from this place of honor and fully recognize Judge Horton’s life of public service and contributions to Memphis. This is a victory for justice, a milestone in our city’s history and a sign that Memphis is embracing the legacy of a great man.”

Cohen said Davis was a strong supporter of Jim Crow legislation and frequently cited one of his favorite mantras, “Keep Memphis down in Dixie,” the Commercial Appeal reported last year. When Davis’ bid for municipal judge was rejected by Mayor Rowlett Paine, for whom Davis served as executive secretary, he turned to the KKK for assistance. Because of KKK support, Davis’ campaign for city judge was successful in the early 1920s.

“Clifford Davis’ family learned of the idea of changing the name to simply the Odell Horton building, and the family said ‘We are proud of Cliff Davis’ many contributions to Memphis, but his membership in the Klan and support of Jim Crow cannot be excused’,” Cohen said, last year, the Commercial Appeal reported.

Meanwhile, Horton was chosen by President Jimmy Carter to serve the Western District of Tennessee in May of 1980. He held the position of first Black assistant U.S. attorney for West Tennessee for five years before his appointment as a judge for the Shelby County Criminal Court, the Commercial Appeal reported in July.

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