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Senate Votes to Remove Ex-Klansman’s name from Memphis’ Federal Building

Bill now goes to President Biden following IPSR investigation exposing Clifford Davis’ ties to KKK

The Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building, illuminated by the evening sun. Davis, a former congressman, once was a member of the Klan and also a longtime segregationist. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)
The Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building, illuminated here by the evening sun, will soon be named solely for Horton if President Biden signs a renaming bill. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian)

Efforts to remove a former Klansman’s name from Memphis’ federal building have cleared a major hurdle.

The U.S. Senate voted late Thursday, Dec. 9, to remove the name of former congressman and one-time Ku Klux Klan member Clifford Davis from the iconic, 11-story courthouse and office building in Downtown Memphis.

“This is a proud day for Memphis and a satisfying legislative accomplishment,’’ said Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, whose bill to rename the federal building passed the House last month 422-2.

The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent.

Cohen first moved to rename the building in 2007 when it was known as the Clifford Davis Federal Building. Cohen’s bill then added the name of the late Judge Odell Horton, the first African-American jurist to sit on the federal bench in Memphis.

The new legislation would remove Davis’ name and rename the building solely for Horton.

The measure now goes to President Joe Biden. The precise timetable for the bill reaching the president’s desk is unclear.

Steve Cohen

“I look forward to seeing President Biden sign this bill into law and to the ceremonial renaming in Memphis next year,” Cohen said.

Cohen’s bill followed an in-depth  opens in a new windowreport 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 Horton’s name alone.”

Written By

Marc Perrusquia is the director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis, where graduate students learn investigative and explanatory journalism skills working alongside professionals. He has won numerous state and national awards for government watchdog, social justice and political reporting.

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