Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lawyers Peter O. Knight And Cody Fowler Added To Riverwalk Monument Trail

By John F. Kynes

Two titans from Tampa’s legal community — Peter O. Knight and Cody Fowler — will be among other prominent city leaders memorialized along Tampa’s developing Riverwalk. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and attorney Steve Anderson, president of Friends of the Riverwalk, unveiled bronze busts of the two distinguished lawyers in front of family, friends, and local officials at a ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center in December.

The Class of 2013 honorees also includes newspaper publisher C. Blythe Andrews, civic leader Kate Jackson, Cuban civil rights leader Paulina Pedroso, and businessman G.D. Rogers. The statues are mounted on granite pedestals and will be placed in a permanent location along the Riverwalk’s Historical Monument Trail, which stretches along the downtown waterfront from the Channel District to Tampa Heights, just west of the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center.

“The trail allows us to remember and honor those who were so committed and dedicated to moving our community forward,” Buckhorn said.

Among their many accomplishments, both Knight and Fowler served as president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, in 1904 and 1936, respectively.

“Our goal is to preserve and honor the local people who created a lasting impact on Tampa,” said Anderson, who heads the local nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk and is working in collaboration with the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay History Center on the project.

The first group of honorees was selected in 2012, and the plan is to designate six new honorees each year until 30 or more historical monuments line the waterfront trail. To be considered, the honorees must have been dead for at least 15 years.

Knight moved to Tampa in 1889 and served as a Tampa City Council member and as Hillsborough County Solicitor. “At the turn of the 20th century, Peter O. Knight was probably the most influential lawyer and community leader in Hillsborough County,” said retired Appellate Judge E.J. Salcines, who is a member of the honoree selection committee.

Knight helped organize the Exchange National Bank, the Tampa Gas Company, and the city’s electric streetcar system. “[Knight] had his hands in everything, and he was integral in making Tampa a bigger and better place,” Salcines told me.

Additionally, Knight was a founding partner of what is now the international law firm of Holland & Knight. Tampa attorney William A. Knight, the great-grandson of Peter O. Knight, said about his relative: “He was a remarkable guy.  I am in awe of what he was able to accomplish.”

In 1924, Fowler moved from Tennessee to Tampa to practice law. His mother, Maud, helped found Temple Terrace, and Cody Fowler served as its first attorney and later as mayor for a term.

Fowler quickly made a name for himself early in his career by defending African-Americans in Tampa’s courts — something few other white attorneys were willing to do at the time. In 1943, he joined with Morris White to form the Fowler and White law firm. In 1950, Fowler was elected president of the American Bar Association — the first Tampa lawyer to attain that position.

“[Fowler] was the go-to guy for the bar association on major issues,” Salcines told me. “You always wanted Cody Fowler on your side.”

Appointed chairman of both Florida’s and Tampa’s Bi-Racial Commissions in 1959, Fowler, along with African-American leaders, helped guide the peaceful integration of Tampa’s lunch counters in 1960. His leadership on improving race relations continued through the turbulent 1960s as Tampa and the nation struggled with racial integration and other equality issues, such as the hiring practices of local businesses.

Fowler’s grandsons, Cody F. Davis and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, are both lawyers in Tampa. Jim Davis says people referred to Fowler as “Big Cody” and that he was inspired by Fowler’s example to “treat everyone with respect.”

“In his [Fowler’s] day, that meant standing up for equality among races,” Jim Davis said.

He added: “Big Cody took great joy in serving our community and helping his clients … and thought every lawyer should do his or her part to make their community a better place.”

See you around the Chet.