MEMPHIS, TN — The U.S. House has passed a bill to remove the name of the late congressman and one-time klansman Clifford Davis from Memphis’ federal building.
The bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis passed Thursday, Nov. 4, on a 422-2 vote and is now on its way to the U.S. Senate. The bill had been dormant for more than seven months amid Washington’s political gridlock following approval in March by the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
If H.R. 390 passes there, President Joe Biden is expected to sign it, renaming the iconic 11-story courthouse and office building solely for Odell Horton, the first African American judge to sit on the federal bench in Memphis. Judge Horton’s name was added to the building alongside Davis’ name in 2007 following another bill by Cohen.
“I had initially hoped to simply rename the building for Judge Horton, but the political will to do that was not present at that time,’’ Cohen said from the House floor before the vote. “And I call it the Clifford Davis, Odell Horton building. Now, here we are in 2021, and the political will is present.”
The renewed effort follows an in-depth report last year by the Institute for Public Service Reporting exploring Davis’ career and his long-forgotten ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
Davis successfully ran for Memphis city court judge on the official KKK ticket in 1923 and was active in the white supremacist terrorist group, giving fiery speeches to the growing throngs of klansmen that plagued the city at the time.
He died in 1970 at age 72. He’d been a Memphis judge and police commissioner before serving 12 terms in Congress between 1940 and 1965.
The Davis family called for his name to be removed from the federal building after the death of George Floyd in 2020 led to a wave of protests that swept across the country.
“We are proud of Cliff Davis’ many contributions to Memphis, but his membership in the Klan and support for Jim Crow cannot be excused,’’ family members said then in a written statement issued through Davis’ great-grandson, Owen Hooks Davis.
“The current reckoning with our nation’s enduring history of racism is long overdue, and we support renaming the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building to bear Judge Horton’s name alone.”