LDF alumnus and retired Chief Judge U.W. Clemon of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama received the 2013 John H. Pickering Award of Achievement at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting earlier this month. The award was given by the ABA Senior Lawyers Division.
The award honors a lawyer or judge for significant contributions to improving access to justice in the model of the late John H. Pickering, who litigated legendary civil rights cases. The ABA recognized Judge Clemon for his extraordinary service over a span of fifty years as a student activist, civil rights lawyer, state legislator and federal judge. A number of LDF alumni and staff were present for the award, including Sheila Thomas, William Robinson, Barry Goldstein, Morris “Mike” Baller and Leslie Proll.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, U.W. Clemon graduated from Miles College in 1965. As a student in the early 1960’s, Clemon boycotted downtown stores and desegregated the Birmingham Public Library, earning him the designation as one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s foot soldiers. When he presented a petition protesting Birmingham’s segregation ordinances to the City Commission, Eugene “Bull” Connor called Clemon an “outside agitator” and ordered him out of the meeting.
Unable to attend the University of Alabama Law School because of his race, Clemon entered Columbia University Law School; it was during law school that he worked as an LDF intern. After graduating in 1968, Clemon returned to Birmingham to litigate civil rights cases and serve as an LDF cooperating attorney. He was a member of Adams, Baker and Clemon, one of the preeminent civil rights law firms in the South. Judge Clemon brought major challenges to segregation in schools and in private and public employment throughout Alabama. One of his earlier lawsuits forced Paul “Bear” Bryant to desegregate the football team at the University of Alabama.
In 1974, Clemon became one of the first two African Americans to serve in the Alabama State Senate since Reconstruction, where he confronted Governor George Wallace on a number of racial issues.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Clemon to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. He was the first African American to sit on the federal court in Alabama. He served on the bench for almost 30 years, presiding over hundreds of significant civil rights and other cases. From 1999 to through 2006, Clemon served as Chief Judge, where he implemented a plan that increased minority participation on juries and diversity in the court’s workforce.
In 2009, Judge Clemon retired from the bench and joined the firm of White, Arnold & Dowd where he litigates in the areas of labor and employment, personal injury, commercial and white collar defense. In addition to the John H. Pickering Award, Judge Clemon has been the recipient of the Judicial Award of Merit by the Alabama Bar Association, the Drum Major Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the C. Francis Stratford Award of the National Bar Association and the Columbia University Law School Paul Robeson Award. LDF is extremely proud to count Judge Clemon among our alumni and we congratulate him on his most recent honor.