Foulston Siefkin Lecture, 2023: Judge U.W. Clemon

Washburn University School of Law
and the Washburn Law Journal
proudly present the
45th Foulston Siefkin Lecture

Judge U.W. Clemon
Retired Federal Judge

"A Dream Deferred: The Fight for Desegregation of America's Schools"

Thursday, March 23, 2023 • 12:30 p.m. • Room 114

Watch on YouTube.

Photograph: Judge U.W. ClemenBorn in Fairfield, Alabama in 1943, U.W. Clemon graduated from the racially segregated Westfield High School as valedictorian of his 1961 class. He then attended Miles College where he participated in a boycott of segregated Birmingham stores and other civil rights demonstrations. He graduated in 1965 as SGA President and, again, as valedictorian of his class. He then received his JD from Columbia Law School, during which he clerked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

As an attorney, Clemon focused on fighting segregation through judicial action. In 1974, he was elected one of the first two Black Alabama state senators since Reconstruction. During his tenure, Clemon served as chair of the Rules Committee and often battled with notorious Governor George Wallace over racial issues. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Clemon as the first Black federal judge in Alabama history. When he became Chief Judge, Clemon changed the jury plan to make sure that more Black and poor citizens were a part of it. His most significant case as a judge was Ledbetter v. Goodyear. There, the Supreme Court overturned the jury’s ruling in his court that Ms. Ledbetter’s workplace had discriminated against her because of her sex. Congress then overruled the Supreme Court when it passed the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” the first bill signed into law by President Obama.

When Clemon retired from the federal bench in 2009, he returned to law practice, where he handled one of the most controversial school desegregation cases in this century: Stout v. Gardendale Board of Education, in which the court blocked the mostly white City of Gardendale from setting up a separate school system to exclude many black students. Clemon and his wife, Barbara—a retired public schoolteacher—have been married for 55 years. Their daughter, Addine, followed in his footsteps as a Birmingham attorney and graduate of Columbia Law. Their son, Isaac, is a musician in New York City. Clemon has received numerous awards and honors, including the Distinguished Jurist Award from the Alabama Bar Association, the Stradford Award from the National Bar Association, the Drum Major Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, The Johnny Cochran Award of the American Association of Justice, the John Pickering Award of the American Bar Association, and the Thurgood Marshall Award of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Two streets in Birmingham are named for him, and there is an endowed U.W. Clemon Scholarship at Birmingham Southern College. Two years ago, the new U.W. Clemon Elementary School opened in the same Jefferson County School system he attended as a child. See also Judge Clemon's full bio (89 KB PDF).

He co-authored the article, "The Nation’s First Civil-Rights Law Needs to Be Fixed" which appears in the August 7, 2020, edition of The Atlantic.


Judge Clemon will present over his experience desegregating schools. He will begin by talking about his experience with segregation in the 1940s, in his early career, and the struggle to keep schools desegregated today. One of his proposed solutions to the permanent desegregation of schools is to expand the United States Supreme Court. He believes that we can't realize the goal of desegregation until we have a more representative judicial branch.

Logo: Foulston Liefkin LLP.
has sponsored this lecture series since 1978 to enrich the
quality of education at Washburn University School of Law.
Articles derived from the lectures are published by
the Washburn Law Journal.