Clay County Monument Honoring Justice Hugo L. Black

Almost immediately after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, citizens in Clay County began efforts to build an appropriate memorial to honor his life and work. This led to the incorporation of the Hugo Black Memorial Library Fund, which filed papers in the Clay County Probate Office on December 29, 1972. The initial plans aimed to build a library to house some of Black’s papers and memorabilia in Ashland, his boyhood hometown.

On February 27, 1976, the 90th anniversary of Black’s birth, Chief Justice Warren Burger spoke in a ceremony at the library’s planned Ashland site. The initial plan called for moving Black’s boyhood home, listed in 1973 on the National Register of Historic Places, to the proposed library site. Unfortunately, the Black Fund was unable to achieve its necessary, ambitious fundraising goals, and the effort to honor Justice Black faltered. The Black home deteriorated over the years and was torn down before it could be restored.

 In 1983, the Black Fund’s board of directors appointed a new member, Ashland attorney John E. Rochester, who became the Clay County Circuit Judge in 1987. Judge Rochester, as the only remaining active member of the Board, found new ways to honor Justice Black in his home county. At his request, the Clay County Commission in 1993 renamed the main courtroom in the County Courthouse the Hugo Black Courtroom. On behalf of the Black Fund, Rochester also commissioned renowned artist Simmie Knox to paint Justice Black’s portrait, which  today hangs in the Hugo Black Courtroom.

Rochester also served as President of the Martha Christine White Foundation, a Clay County private foundation which in 1995 became owner of the land where the old Black home  once stood. All board members of the White Foundation shared Rochester’s interest in creating a memorial to Justice Black at this site, and the property was held for that eventual purpose.

Over the years, Linda Willis Rochester, John Rochester’s wife, actively  encouraged pursuing the idea of a permanent, public memorial to Justice Black in Clay County. Therefore, the Black Fund’s board was reactivated, and she became a member along with Alabama-born tax attorney Henry Agee, who served with John Rochester on the White Foundation’s board. Through Agee’s work, the IRS renewed the Library Fund’s tax exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization on November 20, 2014. Afterwards, the Black Fund and the White Foundation began an active collaboration to build a monument to Justice Black on the site of his boyhood home.

Nashville stone carver Charlie Hunt was commissioned to design the Hugo Black Monument. Serving as liaison for the Fund and the Foundation, Agee met frequently with  Hunt at his Nashville office, and the monument’s design went through several revisions before a final concept was adopted. In February, 2016, upon Hunt’s recommendation, the Black Fund engaged Russell Faxon to sculpt a bronze statue of Justice Black to serve as the monument’s centerpiece.

Linda Rochester also recruited Steve Suitts, author of Hugo Black of Alabama, to serve as an advisor on the sculpture and monument, including selecting its inscription and quotations.  Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who served on the original board of the Black Fund, and former First Lady Patsy Riley were very helpful in assisting in the revival of the project. Mrs. Riley, along with other members of the Adams Family, generously donated an adjoining lot so that the Black Fund had additional, adequate space for creating the Hugo Black Memorial Park where the monument sits.

On August 8, 2016, Hunt, Faxon, Suitts, John and Linda Rochester, and Agee met at the  site of the Black homeplace in Ashland to erect “mock ups” of the design to confirm the appropriate size and to determine the best placement of the monument and sculpture. Afterwards, the group convened at the First United Methodist Church of Ashland to sign contracts, setting in motion the casting of the bronze sculpture and quarrying of the granite for the long-sought memorial.  

Once Faxon completed his clay model for the sculpture, he met with Agee, Suitts and the Rochesters at his studio in Bell Buckle, Tennessee in February 2017 to obtain final approval of the specific image.  Faxon later traveled to Colorado to supervise the casting of the sculpture, which was shipped to and stored at Hunt’s Nashville office, where Suitts and  Agee viewed it in finished bronze form for the first time in October 2017.

The granite for the monument was quarried at the Walker Granite Company in Elberton, Georgia, where Hunt chiseled the approved wording onto the monument. It remained there until delivered to the site of Black’s old homeplace.

During the second weekend in June 2018, the monument and the sculpture were installed in Ashland by Russell Faxon and Charlie Hunt (assisted by Hayden, Trent and Steve from his office) and with aid from Luke Walker, Rhett Walker and Brad Holland of Walker Granite Company. John Rochester, Linda Rochester, Steve Suitts, Henry Agee and Alex Rochester were on hand to observe. Earlier in the year, Kevin Adams and his team of masonry craftsmen poured the monument’s concrete foundation and Russell Anderson lifted by trackhoe the monument sections into position.

  On  June 10, 2018, the memorial for Justice Black was set in place in Clay County. The  project with roots from 1972 to honor Black in his own hometown came to fruition.

Following the installation, John Rochester supervised the Park’s landscaping plan that was designed by Randy McDaniel of Birmingham. A grant of $100,000 from the Alabama Department of Tourism (Lee Sentell, director) provided essential funds to complete the Hugo Black Memorial Park with the addition of plantings, sidewalks, gas lampposts, picnic tables and benches.

Today the Hugo Black Memorial Monument and Park are open to the public in order to remember and celebrate the life and work of US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black of Alabama.