“At long last this building famously known as ‘201 Poplar’ will be given a real name,” said newly-elected Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. That name is the Walter L. Bailey, Jr. Criminal Justice Center.
A dedication service on a chilling Friday afternoon noted the renaming of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex in honor of Bailey, who is said to have served longer as a county commissioner than any other African American who has served in such a position anywhere in the United States.
” I am very humbled by this recognition,” Bailey said. “I look upon this recognition as a symbol…not just of Walter Bailey but a symbol of a history and evolution of progress in this city. A history and evolution of progress that had obstacles and challenges such as racial injustices, such as economic and political challenges.
“And all of those challenges were met through the evolutionary process of leaders who were bold enough and courageous enough to take on the challenges. And for that I am deeply grateful.”
Bonner, the first African American elected sheriff of Shelby County, said it was fitting that the former Criminal Justice Complex “be named for a man that has always fought for a level playing field for everyone and has never stopped striving for insuring justice for all.
“He took a case in 1970 that changed law throughout our country. Every single law enforcement officer is taught the case to this day. …Tennessee vs Garner set the guidelines for using deadly force,” said Bonner. “He fought all the way to the United States Supreme Court and his victory has saved countless lives over many decades.”
Giving the invocation, the Rev. Dr. Lynn Bumpus Dandridge said Bailey received God’s call and “walked it out throughout his life speaking in behalf of those who are marginalized and the least among us.”
Bailey, said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, “For over 40 years … has been pushing this community to be the very best it can be. …Long before we could take down those Confederate monuments and really be a community that respected diversity and tolerance, there was commissioner Walter Bailey for years and years pushing us to do something about that issue.”
Shelby County Commission Chairman Van Turner Jr. guided the program, taking note of the elected officials and those who assembled for the ceremony.
“At Morehouse College we had a gentlemen (Benjamin Elijah Mays), who basically saved the college…He always said the sin is not the failure but low aim. Thank God Squire Bailey never had low aim…He was always a statesman. You never saw Commissioner Bailey …as we call it ‘go off on anyone.’ …He always carried his point so well and he always did it in such a dignified and scholarly manner.”
Pointing out that Adrienne Bailey, the widow of the late Judge D’Army Bailey, was on hand, Turner said, “It is so appropriate that the brothers are going to be side by side one another for a long time to come. We’ve got Judge D’Army Bailey Courthouse across the street.”
Shelby County District Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich recalled starting out as prosecutor in 1991. Bailey, she said, “taught me a lot about how to do this job with dignity, with grace while fighting the fight. …It is a challenge for all of us that work in this courthouse — that do the work for the public — to remember that it is not about right or left. It’s about right or wrong. It’s about doing the right thing every day for the right reason, which is what you’ve done (and) what your career has been.”
Circuit Court Judge Jerry Stokes practiced law with Bailey for 19 years. “I learned so much from you: How you took care of your clients and how you looked for justice in every case that you handled. …I cannot think of a man or woman who is more deserving of this honor than you.”
Former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice George Brown noted that a Google search shows several Walter Baileys convicted of crimes.
“I point that out because I don’t take Walter Bailey’s achievements for granted. …He started at Mississippi and Walker and he could be a statistic in 201 Poplar other than having this building named after him. I would ask us to take a pause and just understand — those of you who are younger — and realize how far we have come as people. And much of it is a result of the body of work of Walter Bailey.”