Extra! Shooting in Congress!

In the 1920s, Clifford Davis was a Memphis lawyer who wanted to enter politics. He ran for a judgeship and won with the support of the Memphis Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1940, political boss Edward Hull Crump chose Davis to fill a vacant seat in the United States House of Representatives. The availability occurred after the city council appointed Representative Walter Chandler as mayor of Memphis. Davis served as a member of the Post Office and Civil Service Committees as well as the chairman of the Committee on Flood Control. During World War II, he was on the Military Affairs Committee and used his position to get military installations for Memphis.

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On March 1, 1954, Davis was in the Capitol for a vote. The House of Representatives convened at noon to consider House Resolution 450. This resolution would re-authorize a program to allow migrant Mexican farmhands to work in the United States. During the debate, four Puerto Rican nationals, Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero and Irving Flores Rodriguez entered the gallery. 243 members of the House were present for the vote after the debate. While the representatives waited for the votes to be counted, Lebron opened fire, emptied her pistol and then unfurled a Puerto Rican flag. The four assailants were members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which called for full Puerto Rican independence and had previously used violence to advance their cause. Five representatives were wounded, including Clifford Davis who was shot in the leg. House Pages took the lead in ordering stretchers and identifying the wounded. Meanwhile, police sealed the Capitol and searched the grounds until all four of the shooters were in custody.

Lebron, Miranda, Cordero and Rodriguez were indicted, tried and convicted for their actions. They were all given maximum sentances in federal prison. In 1962, the House of Representatives’ sergeant-at-arms held a raffle among the wounded Congressmen. The “winners” received the pistols and the Puerto Rican flag that were the evidence in the trial. Rep. Davis “won” the pistol. He decided to donate the gun to the Memphis Museum, and it is still a part of our collection.
Politically, Davis went on to co-sponsor the Federal-Aid Highway Act and as well as a bill which allowed the Tennessee Valley Authority to issue bonds to become self-financing. Both of these measures had a lasting impact on the state of Tennessee. In total, he won reelection to Congress twelve times before losing his seat in 1964.

Lebron, Miranda, Cordero and Rodriguez all received clemency from President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
You can see the Universal News coverage of the shooting on C-SPAN at http://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?317988-1/1954-newsreel-shooting-congress. You can also view oral histories about the event at http://history.house.gov/Oral-History/Events/1954-Shooting/.

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