Judge Clemon is Alabama's first Black federal judge
Washington D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) celebrated the birthday of the Honorable Judge U.W. Clemon by honoring him on the House Floor. Alabama's first Black federal judge, U.W. Clemon celebrated his 80th birthday on Sunday, April 9.
Rep. Sewell's remarks are transcribed below. A recording can be viewed and downloaded here.
Rep. Sewell: Mister Speaker, I rise today to honor the extraordinary career of a legal giant and Civil Rights activist, Alabama's first Black federal judge, the Honorable U.W. Clemon, who celebrated his 80th birthday on April 9th.
A native of Alabama, Judge Clemon was born in 1943. Despite much of his childhood in the segregated school system of Jefferson County, Clemon broke down barriers, graduating as a two-time valedictorian, first at Westfield High School in 1961 and then at Miles College in 1965.
As a college student, Judge Clemon was a leading voice for civil rights. He marched in countless student demonstrations under the direction of Dr. King and played a pivotal role in the Selective Buying Campaign to boycott segregated stores in downtown Birmingham.
Before graduating from Columbia Law School in 1968, Clemon clerked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, forming a life-long association serving as local counsel on numerous civil rights lawsuits throughout Alabama.
Judge Clemon always understood the importance of the law in the fight for justice and equality.
He quickly gained a reputation as an effective and fearless lawyer, taking on Coach "Bear" Bryant to desegregate the all-white University of Alabama football team, and he took on the U.S. Steel Corporation which led to the desegregation of the American steel industry.
By 1974, Judge Clemon took his advocacy to the Alabama State Legislature, making history as one of the first two African Americans elected to the Alabama Senate since Reconstruction.
His tenure as a pioneering lawmaker and skilled attorney caught the attention of President Jimmy Carter who appointed then-Senator Clemon to serve as Alabama's first Black federal judge in 1980. He went on to serve on the federal bench for 30 years until 2009.
Judge Clemon was a highly respected jurist inside and outside the courtroom. He was known as fair but tough. He demanded that lawyers before him represent their clients competently and effectively. Judge Clemon served as Chief Justice for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama from 1999 to 2006.
Despite retiring from the bench in 2009, Judge Clemon has remained a vibrant member of the Birmingham legal community where he continues to practice law, serving the underrepresented, vulnerable, and underserved. He has received numerous awards, holds three honorary degrees, two street namings, and most recently, an elementary school was named in his honor.
On a personal note, Judge Clemon is a trusted advisor, counselor, and a loving father figure to me. My most formative legal experience was serving as a law clerk for Judge Clemon after graduating from law school in 1992.
I learned so much serving as his law clerk. I learned more about the practice of law and saw firsthand what justice looks like by witnessing him in his courtroom. Sitting with him in his chamber was always an educational experience. The Judge tested my knowledge, stretched my legal acumen, challenged my views, and inspired me to be a better lawyer and person.
I know that I now serve as Alabama's first Black Congresswoman because I was blessed by a transformative experience clerking for Alabama's first Black federal judge.
I want to thank his loving family, his wife of 50 years, Ms. Barbra, and his two children, Michelle and Isaac, for sharing him with so many of us.
I ask my colleagues to join me in celebrating the 80th birthday and the extraordinary career of an exceptional jurist, lawmaker, and public servant, and wonderful counselor, Judge U.W. Clemon, whose life's work stands as a testament to the power of one person to change the world.
May the seeds Judge Clemon has sowed continue to bear fruit for generations to come.
Happy birthday, Judge.