U.W. Clemon

U.W. Clemon (1943–    ), born in Fairfield, Alabama, was the first Black federal judge in Alabama and was among the first ten Black lawyers admitted to the Alabama bar. He graduated valedictorian of his high school class and of Miles College and, because the University of Alabama law school did not accept Black students, he attended Columbia University, graduating with a law degree in 1968. He was active in the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963 and helping to desegregate the Birmingham Public Library. While in law school, he worked part time in the New York office of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. After law school, he returned to Alabama to practice civil rights law and played a central role in reversing school segregation in the state and in securing the rights of Blacks to attend the same university that refused to enroll him in its law school. In 1974, he and J. Richmond Pearson were elected to the Alabama Senate, becoming the first Blacks elected to that state legislative body since the Reconstruction era in the late 19th century. As a state senator, he opposed capital punishment, pushed Gov. George Wallace—who defended segregation and condemned federal intervention in state affairs—to appoint Blacks to state boards and agencies, and advanced legislation that made Black state universities independent of the all-White State Board of Education. In 1980, he was nominated to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter and, despite opposition from southern conservatives, received the unanimous vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. Presiding over hundreds of significant federal cases for nearly three decades, he handed down decisions in race, gender, disability discrimination, and environmental suits, resulting in more than $1 billion in damages being paid to plaintiffs. The cases also resulted in promotions, workplace reforms, environmental cleanup projects, and improved medical care for thousands of plaintiffs. He received national attention for requiring several Alabama counties to construct new jail facilities and improve medical care for inmates. As Chief Judge of the Northern District of Alabama (1999–2006), he worked with his fellow judges to implement in 2000 a new jury plan that increased minority participation on juries, reduced the distances jurors had to travel, and decreased juror costs. After retiring from the bench in 2009, he returned to private law practice. He has received many awards and two honorary degrees, participates in panels, and sings in the male chorus at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.