U. W. Clemon

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2018.

 

Judge U. W. Clemon has been a fighter for civil rights for most of his life. The son of migrated Mississippi sharecroppers, he was born in Fairfield, Alabama, in 1943. At the age of thirteen, he witnessed an act of police brutality against a friend, which directly inspired his decision to become a civil rights lawyer.


Clemon is a product of the segregated Jefferson County public schools. At Miles College, he was one of the leaders of the 1962 selective buying campaign which led to a confrontation with Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor. When Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the Birmingham Campaign the following year, Clemon was assigned to desegregate the Birmingham Public Library. He graduated valedictorian from Miles College in 1965.


With a law degree from Columbia University, Clemon returned to Alabama in 1968 and began practicing law. Over the next twelve years, he represented black plaintiffs in major civil rights litigation against the Jefferson County School Board, United States Steel Corporation, Pullman Standard Corporation, and the City of Birmingham. One of the first two African Americans elected to the Alabama State Senate since Reconstruction, Clemon chaired the Rules Committee and the Judiciary Committee, where he confronted Governor George Wallace on several civil rights issues.


In 1980, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter and approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Clemon is the first African American federal judge in Alabama history. As Chief Justice, he implemented a more inclusive jury plan and judicial workforce. Among his many notable rulings, Clemon presided over the case that resulted in the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.


Since his retirement from the federal bench in 2009, Clemon has resumed practicing law. His most recent cases include the Gardendale school case and the Alabama legislative reapportionment case.
Clemon is the recipient of the Judicial Award of Merit from the Alabama Bar Association, the John Pickering Award from the American Bar Association, the C. Francis Stradford Award from the National Bar Association, the “Drum Major” Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Paul Robeson Award from Columbia Law School. In November 2018, Clemon will receive the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.


He is married to Barbara Lang Clemon, a retired school teacher. His children are Addine Michelle Clemon, an attorney, and H. Isaac Clemon, a musician. Clemon is a deacon of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, a 33rd degree Prince Hall Mason, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.