Retired Tarrant County, Texas, District Judge Clifford Davis’ dream of being a lawyer started when Scipio Jones passed through his hometown, Wilton, Ark., while working on the defense of 12 Black men accused of murder and sentenced to death after the Elaine Massacre of 1919.
“He came through our little town and spoke and that inspired me to be like him,” says Davis, who recently celebrated his 99th birthday.
After college and then law school, he worked on school desegregation cases in Arkansas and in Texas, and even worked briefly alongside the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
College, let alone law school, was not a given for Davis, whose father was a farmer in southwest Arkansas.
The local school only educated students through eighth grade, so the family rented a house in Little Rock so he and his siblings could go to Dunbar High School.
After graduation in 1942, he enrolled at Philander Smith College.
“I’m very proud of the training and experience I got at that Methodist institution,” he says. “Back in those days, they emphasized being gentlemen. For instance, men had to wear a coat and tie in class. We were taught all types of ethics and intelligence and integrity and everybody had to belong to a club and participate in all kinds of activities around the campus, and I did that.”
Davis was involved in choir, the dramatic club and basketball, as well as a civics and government organization.
He might have liked to go to law school in his home state following his graduation from Philander in 1945, but segregation prevented that.
“Back in those days, we couldn’t go, but Arkansas would pay tuition to another school, to another state, where you could attend,” says