Clifford Davis (politician)

Clifford Davis (November 18, 1897 – June 8, 1970) was a Democratic U.S. Representative from Tennessee from 1940 to 1965.

Clifford Davis
Clifford Davis.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee
In office
February 14, 1940 – January 3, 1965
Preceded byClift Chandler
Succeeded byGeorge Grider
Constituency9th district (1940–1943)
10th district (1943–1953)
9th district (1953–1965)
Personal details
Born(1897-11-18)November 18, 1897
Hazlehurst, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedJune 8, 1970(1970-06-08) (aged 72)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of Mississippi (LLB)

Early lifeEdit

Davis was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, moving to Memphis with his parents at age 14. There he completed the high school curriculum of the public schools, and in 1917 he completed law school at the University of Mississippi. In 1918 he was admitted to the Tennessee bar.

Public serviceEdit

In 1923, Davis became a city judge in Memphis, serving in this post until 1927. From 1928 until 1940, Davis served as vice mayor and Commissioner of Public Safety. He became a close associate of Memphis political "boss" E. H. Crump. Davis was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.[1] The result was relatively unquestioned violence against black residents of Memphis.[1][2]


In 1940, the seat for the 10th Congressional District, which included Memphis, came open after three-term incumbent Clift Chandler was elected mayor of Memphis. Crump arranged for his colleague Davis to receive the Democratic nomination for the post. In those days, the Democratic nomination was tantamount to election in most of Tennessee (except for heavily Republican East Tennessee). Davis won the special election and took office on February 15, 1940. Davis was elected to a full term in November of that year and was reelected eleven times. His district was renumbered as the 9th District after Tennessee lost a district in the 1950 Census.

Crump died in 1954, but many of his supporters remained in office for years afterwards. In fact, Davis was re-elected five times after Crump's death. During this time, Davis served as chairman of the House Special Committee on Campaign Expenditures, a group which was charged with attempting to find a legal way to control the influence of money on politics and looked into the beginning of what became, many years later, became the system of campaign finance reform that started to be implemented after the Watergate scandal.

Davis was one of five Representatives shot on March 1, 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire from the visitors' balcony into the chamber of the United States House of Representatives. Davis was shot in the leg, but was not seriously wounded.

He was a signatory to the 1956 Southern Manifesto that opposed the desegregation of public schools ordered by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.


The Memphis area became much friendlier to Republicans in the 1960s, in part due to a massive crossover of white voters from the Democrats. As evidence of this growing influence, Davis barely held onto his seat in 1962, defeating his Republican challenger, former city councilman Ed Davis, by only 1,200 votes. This was particularly shocking considering that he had been unopposed for reelection two years earlier.

In 1964, Davis lost the August Democratic primary to Shelby County legislator George W. Grider, a retired naval officer and fellow attorney. Unlike Davis, Grider had no past ties to the Crump machine. Davis did not return to Memphis full-time, but maintained a residence in Washington, D.C. where he resumed the practice of law until his death. He is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis.


The Clifford Davis Federal Building in Memphis was named after him. As of May 2, 2007, the "Clifford Davis Federal Building" is designated the "Clifford Davis and Odell Horton Federal Building."

On December 9, 2021 the US Senate voted to remove Clifford Davis' name from the Federal Building in Memphis due to his ties to the Ku Klux Klan.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Honey, Michael K. (2007). "A Plantation in the City". Going down Jericho Road the Memphis strike, Martin Luther King's last campaign (1. ed.). New York [u.a.]: Norton. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-393-04339-6. Crump put Ku Klux Klan leader Cliff Davis in charge of the police and then made him a congressman for thirteen terms.
  2. ^ Wright, Sharon D. (2000). "The Crump Machine and Black Memphis". Race, power, and political emergence in Memphis. New York [u.a.]: Garland Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 9780815330837. ...Crump generally had racist views toward black Americans. He allowed police brutality against black citizens to go unchecked. During the 1920s, Ku Klux Klan member Clifford Davis served as police commissioner, and almost 70 percent of the force were Klan members.
  3. ^ "President signs bill into law to rename Memphis federal building". 21 December 2021.


U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 10th congressional district

Constituency abolished
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by