By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee is
housed in the federal building that now bears the name of the late Judge Odell Horton,
who presided until his death in 2006.
A renaming ceremony took place July 25 amid a cadre of jurists, attorneys, and
elected officials, who gathered at the foot of the federal building in Downtown Memphis
to witness the unfolding of a new era.
Once named after Clifford Davis, a U.S. congressman with ties to the Ku Klux Klan,
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s first bill in congress in 2007 added Judge Horton’s name to the
“One of the first things I did as a Congressperson was to hyphenate this building. It
became known as the Clifford Davis – Odell Horton Federal Office Building,” Cohen
said. “I considered naming it for Judge Horton alone at the time but didn’t know if it was
the right time…The right time is now.”
Davis’ name was removed from the federal building after the Senate passed Cohen’s
bill last year and President Joe Biden signed it into law. There was “insufficient support”
to remove Davis’ name in 2007, said Cohen, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on
the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
Cohen hosted the renaming ceremony and relished the moment with the Honorable S.
Thomas Anderson, Chief United States District Judge, U.S. District Court for the
Western District of Tennessee; the Honorable Bernice B. Donald, Circuit Judge, U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and Odell Horton Jr., son of Judge Horton.
“It is a good morning,” Cohen said in his remarks to the attendees. “It’s the end of a
past that needed to pass and the beginning of a future whose future is now, and has been,
and will be.”
Judge Anderson spoke on behalf of all federal judges in the Western District of
“It is an honor for all of us that from this day forward this building will served as a
reminder of a character, strength and contributions made by one of our very own, U.S.
District Judge Odell Horton,” he said.
Judge Donald said Judge Horton deserves to be exalted. “He was my mentor. He was
my friend. He was the thought of wisdom…and I consulted him often,” she said. “He had
this rare ability to give even difficult advice in a way that made you stop, listen, and take
She added that Cohen’s effort to rename the federal building to honor Judge Horton
was the right thing to do.
Odell Horton Jr., who asked his brother, Chris Horton, to stand with him on the
platform, spoke on behalf of the family and expressed his gratitude.
“Our father wanted us to say his wife, our mother Evie, was the driving force behind
his success,” he said, noting that their parents worked hard to build careers and made a
positive impact in the community.
“I was asked in an interview how would I describe my father,” Horton recalls. “He
was a kind man and understood the rigors of life. Growing up poor he understood those
who struggled to better themselves.”
Judge Horton was born in Bolivar, Tenn. After graduating from high school in 1946,
he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta,
Howard University in Washington, D.C., earned his law degree in 1956, and moved to
Memphis to set up his law practice.
He took a position as Assistant United States Attorney in Memphis until his
appointment to Shelby County Criminal Court by Gov. Buford Ellington. From there he
served as president of LeMoyne-Owen College.
Judge Horton was the first Black federal judge in Tennessee since Reconstruction. He
was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by
President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
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