U. W. Clemon
Uriah W. Clemon (born April 9, 1943 in Fairfield) is an attorney, a former Alabama state senator and former federal judge. He was the first African American to serve as a federal judge in Alabama, having been appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter.
Clemon grew up in Westfield as the youngest of nine children. His father, Mose was a sharecropper from Mississippi who came to Birmingham to work as a a laborer at U.S. Steel. He spent most of his career as a bricklayer's helper, denied advancement due to his race.
Clemon was the valedictorian of his 1961 class at Westfield High School and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia for a year before returning to Birmingham to complete his bachelor's degree at Miles College. While in school he was one of the leaders of the Miles College Anti-Injustice Committee which participated in the selective buying campaign organized by Frank Dukes, and himself helped to organize a 1962 downtown business boycott. Clemon personally presented a petition calling for an end to the city's segregation laws to the Birmingham City Commission. In 1963 Clemon was assigned to desegregate the Birmingham Public Library during the Birmingham campaign. For his involvement in the protest movement he was labelled an "outside agitator" and ordered by Bull Connor to leave the city.
Clemon did leave Birmingham to attend Columbia University Law School in New York on an NAACP-funded scholarship. He graduated with honors and became an Earl Warren Fellow in Civil Rights law. The Foundation payed him to practice in Alabama and he took a job with Adams, Burg & Baker, an integrated firm that was active in local Civil Rights cases.
In 1967 Clemon became a partner with Oscar Adams Jr and James Baker in the newly-established law firm of Adams, Baker and Clemon. He argued in court for the desegregation of public schools and against employment discrimination. He participated in the 1969 lawsuit against Bear Bryant which was dismissed only after Bryant began recruiting black players to the Crimson Tide.
Endorsed by the Jefferson County Progressive Democratic Council, Clemon ran unsuccessfully for the Birmingham City Council in 1973. He was elected to represent District 15 in the Alabama State Senate in 1974. He chaired the Senate Rules Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
Clemon was appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama by Jimmy Carter on June 30, 1980. Though the nomination brought mixed reactions from Alabama's congressional representatives, he was confirmed. He rose to become the District's chief judge from 1999 to 2006, succeeding Sam Pointer Jr, and served a total of 29 years before retiring from the bench in January 2009. Afterward he returned to private practice at White Arnold & Dowd. He delayed his retirement long enough to submit his letter of resignation to President Barack Obama.
During his career, Clemon has been honored numerous times. Significant honors include the National Bar Associations' C. Francis Stradford Award, Columbia University Law School's Paul Robeson Award and the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association's Howell Heflin Award. He holds honorary doctorates from Miles and from Birmingham-Southern College. Clemon was a founding member of the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
|Alabama State Senate District 15
- Bass, Jack (July 17, 1974) "Interview with U. W. Clemon". Southern Oral History Program Collection. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library. - accessed October 19, 2008
- Kilpatrick, Andrew and Peter A. Kopacs (February 15, 1980) "Clemon's top interest is rights" The Birmingham News - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Fair, Bryan K. (September 14, 2008) "U. W. Clemon". Encyclopedia of Alabama - accessed October 19, 2008
- Walton, Val (October 19, 2008) "State's first black federal judge U.W. Clemon to retire and leave the bench Jan. 31." The Birmingham News
- Gordon, Robert K. (January 22, 2009) "Pioneer Birmingham federal Judge U.W. Clemon submits resignation from bench." The Birmingham News
- "U. W. Clemon Looks Back" (January 26, 2009) 6-part video interview with Jim Baggett