E. H. Crump

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E. H. Crump
E.H. Crump cph.3b20183.jpg
Crump in 1945
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 10th district
In office
March 4, 1931 – March 3, 1933
Preceded by Hubert Fisher
Succeeded by Redistricted to 9th district
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1935
Preceded by Jere Cooper
Succeeded by Walter Chandler
Mayor of Memphis
In office
Preceded by James H. Malone
Succeeded by George C. Love
Personal details
Born Edward Hull Crump
(1874-10-02)October 2, 1874
Holly Springs, Mississippi
Died October 16, 1954(1954-10-16) (aged 80)
Memphis, Tennessee
Political party Democratic

Edward Hull "Boss" Crump (October 2, 1874 – October 16, 1954) was an American politician from Memphis, Tennessee. Representing the Democratic Party, he was the dominant force in the city's politics for most of the first half of the 20th century, during which the city had a commission form of government. He also dominated Tennessee state politics for most of the time from the 1920s to the 1940s. He was elected and served as mayor of Memphis from 1910 through 1915, and again briefly in 1940. But, he effectively appointed every mayor elected from 1915 to 1954.


A native of Holly Springs in northern Mississippi, where he was born in 1874, Crump at the age of 19 moved to Memphis, Tennessee on September 21, 1893, according to the Holly Springs Reporter.[1] When he first arrived in Memphis, the ongoing Panic of 1893, the worst recession in the United States history to that time, made it hard for Crump to find work. Eventually, he obtained a clerical position with Walter Goodman Cotton Company located on Front Street in downtown Memphis.[2] This was the start of a successful business career as a broker and trader.

In early 1901, Crump began seriously courting a 23-year-old young woman by the name of Bessie Byrd McLean. Bessie, or "Betty," McLean was a prominent Memphis socialite and has been described as "one of the city's most beautiful and most sought after women."[3] She was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Robert McLean. Her father was then serving as the vice president of the William R. Moore Dry Goods Company. Crump and McLean were married on January 22, 1902 at the Calvary Episcopal Church.[3]

Alongside his rising business career, Crump began to make the political connections that served him for the rest of his life. He was a delegate to the Tennessee Democratic State Convention in 1902 and 1904. In 1905, he was named to the municipal Board of Public Works, and was elected to the powerful position of Commissioner of Fire and Police in 1907, among three commissioners who governed the city.[4]

Starting in the 1910s, Crump began to build a political machine which came to have statewide influence. He was particularly adept in his use of what were at the time two politically weak minority groups in Tennessee: blacks and Republicans. Unlike most Southern Democrats of his era, Crump was not opposed to blacks voting; Memphis blacks were reliable Crump machine voters for the most part. The party often paid the poll taxes required by state law since the late 1880s; otherwise this requirement resulted in disenfranchising many poor blacks. One of Crump's lieutenants in the black community was funeral director N. J. Ford, whose family (in the persons of several sons, including Harold Sr. and John Ford, daughter Ophelia, and grandson Harold, Jr.) became influential in Memphis, state and national politics, continuing to be so today. A symbiotic relationship developed in which blacks aided Crump, and he aided them, as was usual in politics. Crump also skillfully manipulated Republicans, who were numerically very weak in the western two-thirds of the state due to the disenfranchisement of blacks, but dominated politics in East Tennessee. Frequently, they found it necessary to align with Crump in order to accomplish any of their goals in the state government.

Crump was influential for nearly half a century. He usually preferred to work behind the scenes and served only three two-year terms as mayor of Memphis (1910–1915) at the beginning of his career. He essentially named the next several mayors. His rise to prominence disturbed many of the state political leaders in Nashville. The "Ouster Law", designed to remove officials who refused to enforce state laws, was passed primarily with Crump and his lax enforcement of state Prohibition in mind. He was county treasurer of Shelby County from 1917 to 1923. He was elected seven times as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Crump became involved in earnest in state politics during the 1928 gubernatorial election when Henry Horton was seeking election in his own right. Horton had earlier been speaker of the state senate and succeeded to the position of governor when Austin Peay died in office.[5] Crump supported Hill McAlister in the Democratic primary, while the Nashville machine of Luke Lea supported Governor Horton. Horton won the primary despite the strong vote for McAlister in populous Shelby County. When Horton ran for reelection in 1930, Crump and Lea cut a deal, and Crump swung his formidable political machine behind Horton.[6] Horton defeated independent Democrat L. E. Gwinn in the primary and Republican C. Arthur Bruce in the general election.

After years of working behind the scenes, Crump decided to run for U.S. Representative in 1930. He was easily elected to the Tenth District, which was then co-extensive with Shelby County (it became the Ninth in 1932). He served two terms: from March 4, 1931 to January 3, 1935. (The Twentieth Amendment was enacted in 1933, shifting the starting date of Congressional terms.) During this time, he was also a regent of the Smithsonian Institution. He remained hugely influential in Memphis as well. He was in constant communication with his operatives there and visited during each congressional recess.

In 1936, Crump was named to the Democratic National Committee, serving on that body until 1945. In 1939 he was elected a final time as mayor, although that term was officially served by Walter Chandler. Chandler was U.S. Representative for the Ninth District, and Crump thought that Chandler's time was better spent tending to congressional matters in Washington than campaigning for mayor in Memphis. So, without a platform, without a speech, and without opposition, Crump was elected mayor of Memphis.[7]

Crump was sworn in at a few minutes past midnight on January 1, 1940, in a snow storm on the platform of the railroad station, just before leaving for New Orleans to see the Sugar Bowl. In high humor, he resigned immediately. Vice Mayor Joseph Boyle became Mayor till the next day, when the faithful City Commission met and elected Chandler. Watkins Overton's term had ended at midnight, and thus Memphis had four mayors in less than twenty-four hours.

Crump's statewide influence began to wane in the late 1940s. Edward J. Meeman, editor of the Memphis Press-Scimitar, opposed Crump's initiatives and called for a city manager government and abolition of the poll tax to weaken the power of the machine. He also worked to unseat U. S. Senator Tom Stewart, whom Crump supported in the 1948 Democratic primary against his intra-party challenger, U.S. Representative Estes Kefauver.[8] Gordon Browning, a one-time protégé whom Crump had helped elect governor in 1936, was elected governor again in 1948, this time over Crump's opposition. For the rest of his life, Crump's influence was largely limited to Memphis. In 1952, his longtime associate, Senator Kenneth McKellar, was defeated in the Democratic primary — in those days with a practically powerless state Republican party, the real contest in Tennessee — by Congressman Albert Gore, Sr.. A final triumph for Crump was the victory in 1952 of his chosen candidate, Frank G. Clement in the gubernatorial primary over Browning.

Crump died less than two years later. He is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.


Statue of E.H. Crump in Overton Park, Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Crump was a strong supporter of fire service and for many years the Memphis Fire Department was considered one of the best in the country; it still has a high reputation.
  • He believed that separate operations for each municipal utility were inherently inefficient and combined them; in the early 21st century, Memphis Light, Gas and Water is one of the largest combined municipal utilities in the United States.
  • Crump thought that cities should not be too noisy; Memphis has strong noise ordinances that are more aggressively enforced than those of many other jurisdictions.
  • He was an early supporter of requiring automobile safety inspections; all of Memphis-registered vehicles were inspected annually (twice a year until the 1990s), until June 28, 2013, when all city inspections ceased after a de-funding of the department by the Memphis City Council.
  • The city's Crump Stadium and Crump Boulevard are named after him.

Crump's association with Georgia Tann suggests a less flattering view of his legacy.[9] Tann enjoyed Crump's powerful protection in Memphis as she illegally placed babies in adoptive homes; often these babies were stolen. Tann's legacy—and by extension, Crump's—lives on today, in that 32 states (as of January 2007) seal birth certificates for adoptees.


  1. ^ William D. Miller, Mr. Crump of Memphis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964) p. 25.
  2. ^ William D. Miller, Mr. Crump of Memphis, p. 34.
  3. ^ a b William D. Miller, Mr. Crump of Memphis, p. 38.
  4. ^ David Tucker, "Edward Hull 'Boss' Crump," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.
  5. ^ The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture: Henry Horton.
  6. ^ Lee, David D. (1979). Tennessee in Turmoil: Politics in the Volunteer State, 1920-1932. Memphis, TN: Memphis State University Press. 204 p.
  7. ^ Currotto, William F. 2000. Mr. Ed of Memphis: The Red Snapper or the Red Headed Man, 1874-1954.
  8. ^ "Edward John Meeman". Tennessee Encyclopedia. January 1, 2010. Retrieved May 24, 2015. 
  9. ^ Barbara B. Raymond. 2007. The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. Carroll and Graf. 320 p.

Further reading[edit]

  • Miller, William D. (1964) Mr. Crump of Memphis Southern biography series. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Dowdy, G. Wayne. (2006) Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Biles, Roger. (1986) Memphis In The Great Depression Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
Political offices
Preceded by
James H. Malone
Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee
Succeeded by
George C. Love
Preceded by
S. Watkins Overton
Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee
Succeeded by
Joseph Patrick Boyle
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Hubert Fisher
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 10th congressional district

District eliminated after 1930 Census
Preceded by
Jere Cooper
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Walter Chandler