By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee is
housed in the Federal Building now named after the late Justice Odell Horton,
who presided until his death in 2006.
A name change ceremony took place on July 25 in the midst of a group of jurists, lawyers and
the elected officials, who gathered at the foot of the federal building in Downtown Memphis
to witness the dawn of a new era.
Once named after Clifford Davis, a U.S. Congressman with ties to the Ku Klux Klan,
US Representative Steve Cohen’s first bill to Congress in 2007 added Judge Horton’s name to the
“One of the first things I did as a congressman was cut this building down. This
became known as Clifford Davis – Odell Horton Federal Office Building”, Cohen
said. “I considered nominating him for the only Judge Horton at the time, but I wasn’t sure if that was
the right time… The right time is now.
Davis’ name was removed from the Federal Building after the Senate adopted Cohen’s decision
bill last year and President Joe Biden signed it. 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 name change ceremony and savored the moment with the Honorable S.
Thomas Anderson, Chief United States District Judge, US District Court for the
Western District of Tennessee; the Honorable Bernice B. Donald, Circuit Judge, United States
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; and Odell Horton Jr., son of Judge Horton.
“It’s a good morning,” Cohen said in his remarks to attendees. “It’s the end of a
past which was to pass and the beginning of a future whose future is now, and was,
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 serves as
reminder of character, strength and contributions made by one of our own, the United States
District Judge Odell Horton,” he said.
Justice Donald said Justice Horton deserved to be elated. “He was my mentor. It was
my friend. He was the thought of wisdom…and I consulted him often,” she said. “He had
that rare ability to give even difficult advice in a way that made you stop, listen, and take
She added that Cohen’s efforts to rename the federal building in honor of 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 that his wife, our mother Evie, was the driving force behind
its 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 I would describe my father,” Horton recalled. “He
was a good man and understood the rigors of life. Having grown up poor, he understood these
who struggled to improve.
Justice Horton was born in Bolivar, Tennessee. After graduating from high school in 1946,
he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta,
Howard University in Washington, DC, earned her law degree in 1956 and moved to
Memphis to set up his law firm.
He served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Memphis until his
appointment to Shelby County Criminal Court by Governor Buford Ellington. Garlic
served as president of LeMoyne-Owen College.
Judge Horton was Tennessee’s first black federal judge since Reconstruction. He
was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee by
President Jimmy Carter in 1980.