Clement receives chamber award

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 11:28 PM

A.J. Howard Clement III wasn’t sure about moving here from Charleston, S.C., in 1961, the longtime Durham city councilman said Thursday.

One reason was that Durham was a highly segregated community, he said. He tried to stay at a downtown motel after he arrived, he said, but was turned away.

“Time has brought on changes,” Clement said Thursday, after he was presented with the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Honor Award for this year. He received the honor at the chamber’s annual meeting at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center.

The award has been given by the chamber since 1933 to people who have made “extraordinary contributions” to the community. Clement was appointed to the Durham City Council in May of 1983, and he’s been a member from 1985 to the present.

“I had trepidation about coming, but I’m glad I came,” Clement said.

Clement said his uncle met him at the Durham train station on Feb. 26, 1961. He came from Charleston to take a job in the legal department at N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co., he said. Eventually, he took charge of claims administration.

His father had wanted him to put his Howard University law degree to use in Charleston, helping with his law practice, Clement said. Originally, Clement only planned to stay in Durham for 10 years, but he never left.

He was active in civil rights, participating in the 1963 March on Washington, as well as participating at sit-ins at an F.W. Woolworth Co. in Durham and several boycott efforts in the city. He said he’s been arrested at least three times, in D.C., in Richmond, Va., and in Durham, for participating in demonstrations.

As a council member, he said, he fought for the city’s annexation of Parkwood and supported the development of The Streets at Southpoint.

Nick Tennyson, former Durham mayor, said Clement was also an advocate for public transportation. Clement does not drive. From that personal experience, he was “more aware than most about mobility issues.”

Mayor Bill Bell said Clement was a supporter of the city’s new train station.

 “Howard was always interested in, or was interested before other people were, in rail, and the value that rail can have in transportation for Durham,” Tennyson said. “More to the point, he was really pushing to make sure, always pushed to make sure, that we brought all the modes of transportation together that we could – rail, inner city bus, city bus, regional transportation, rail...”

Clement has been absent from recent council meetings due to illness. Durham City Attorney Patrick W. Baker said in an email that the council has excused his absences by resolution, which is required by the city charter.

Unless the council rescinds the resolution, Clement’s absences are excused, Baker said. They don’t count against him.