Statue will honor 'hero' judge of Scottsboro Boys case
Updated 2:06 pm, Thursday, December 1, 2016
Mobile artist Casey Downing Jr. said he has started work on the life-size, bronze statue of Horton that eventually will be placed in front of the courthouse.
"This guy is a real hero. He did the right thing, and he paid the price for it, and he knew he was going to pay the price for it," Downing said. "So for me, this is exactly the kind of person that I want to build a monument to."
Horton, a Limestone County native, presided over the trial of Heywood Patterson, one of the nine black teenagers falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931.
Despite one of the alleged victims recanting her story and several witnesses providing conflicting testimony, an all-white jury convicted Patterson and sentenced him to death.
Despite intense pressure and death threats from people both in favor of and against convicting the teenagers, Horton set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial for Patterson in a ruling delivered at the Limestone County Courthouse.
He indefinitely postponed the trials of the other defendants, finding they could not receive a fair trial.
"We live in a time where politicians enforce the laws they want to and disregard the ones they don't," local author and retired attorney Jerry Barksdale said. "I think it will be a wonderful thing for young people to see a man who followed the law."
Horton, who was born in 1878 and whose father fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, lost his job over the decision. He was removed from the case and replaced with a judge who oversaw a quick conviction of Patterson.
Horton lost his re-election bid the next year and never served on the bench again, instead returning to life as a farmer.
His ruling is often lauded as one of the few just moments in the infamous trials that are often cited as miscarriages of American justice.
"We have a white race, and we have a negro race," Horton said in his instructions to the jury. "We are here together, and we are here to live together."
Downing, who sculpted the Joe Louis statue in LaFayette, said he is using photographs of Horton and has consulted with family members to accurately capture Horton's likeness. He estimated it would be late next year before the statue is complete.
"I think he would be very honored and humbled by it," said Horton's granddaughter, Kathy Garrett, though she admits Horton "wasn't one for the limelight" and would likely be surprised by the statue.
Garrett was 17 when Horton died in 1973.
"I can't imagine the weight on his shoulders, but he did the right thing, and I don't think he ever had any doubts about that," she said.
Limestone County Archivist Rebekah Davis said donors gave more than $50,000 to start the Horton sculpture.
A collection of letters sent to Horton during the trial is on loan from the Horton family at the Limestone County Archives. Davis said they are being scanned into the archive's database, so they can be viewed by the public and made available for research.