E. H. Crump

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
E. H. Crump
Crump in 1945
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee
In office
March 4, 1931 – January 3, 1935
Preceded byHubert Fisher
Succeeded byWalter Chandler
Constituency10th district (1931–1933)
9th district (1933–1935)
Mayor of Memphis
In office
Preceded byJames H. Malone
Succeeded byGeorge C. Love
Personal details
Edward Hull Crump

(1874-10-02)October 2, 1874
Holly Springs, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 1954(1954-10-16) (aged 80)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Edward Hull "Boss" Crump Jr. (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 usually dominated Tennessee politics from the 1920s to the 1940s. He was elected and served as mayor of Memphis from 1910 to 1915 and again briefly in 1940. However, he effectively appointed every mayor who was elected from 1915 to 1954.[citation needed]


A native of Holly Springs in northern Mississippi, 19-year-old Crump 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, possibly the worst recession in the United States to that time, made it hard for Crump to find work. Eventually, he obtained a clerical position with the Walter Goodman Cotton Company, on Front Street in downtown Memphis.[2] This was the start of his successful business career as a broker and trader.

Early in 1901, Crump began seriously courting 23-year-old Bessie Byrd McLean. Bessie (or Betty) McLean, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Robert McLean (Mr. McLean was then the vice president of the William R. Moore Dry Goods Company), was a prominent Memphis socialite and considered "one of the city's most beautiful and most sought after women."[3] 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]

Mayor Crump c. 1915

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 snowstorm on the platform of the railroad station, just before leaving for New Orleans to attend the Sugar Bowl football game. In high humor, he resigned immediately. Vice Mayor Joseph Boyle became Mayor until 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.[citation needed]

In 1940, Crump initiated a campaign of political persecution against J.B. Martin, a founder of the Memphis Red Sox and the head of the National Negro Baseball League,. Martin, a longtime Republican Party activist, became chair of the Shelby County Republican Party. After he staged a rally for Republican Wendell Willkie in October, Crump ordered officers to "police" or search all incoming and outgoing patrons of Martin's South Memphis Drugstore. Because he faced a possible term in the prison workhouse on trumped up charges, he left the city. Republican leaders and civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, urged the Roosevelt administration to bring charges against, or denounce, Crump, who benefited from a close alliance with President Roosevelt, but had no success. Although the head of the Civil Rights Section of the Department of Justice indicated a willingness to prosecute Crump for violation of Martin's civil rights, more senior officials in the Roosevelt administration refused to do so. When Martin briefly returned to Memphis in 1943 to attend a game at the Martin Stadium (which he had helped to build), police arrested him, put him in a holding cell, and ordered to leave Memphis. By this time, Martin had settled permanently in Chicago.[8]

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.[9] 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.

Political machine[edit]

From the 1910s to the 1950s, Memphis was a locus of machine politics under the direction of "Boss" Crump, a Democrat.[10] He obtained a state law in 1911 to establish a small commission to manage the city. The city retained a form of commission government until 1967, but Crump was in full control at all times. He used all of the familiar techniques of the big city boss: ballot manipulation, patronage for friends, and frustrating bureaucratic obstacles for the opposition. Crump built a complex alliance with established power figures at the local, state, and national levels. He ensured that dissidents had little or no voice.

At the center of his network was "Cotton Row," the business elite that dominated the cotton industry. Secondly, he included the modernizers: business-oriented progressives who were most concerned with upgrading the city's waterfront, parks, highways, and skyscrapers, as well as a moderately good school system. Working-class whites got their share of jobs, but labor unions had marginal influence.

Roger Biles argues that the political system was virtually unchanged from 1910 into the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to Crump's wire-pulling. Crump was the leading Tennessee supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. In return, the city received ample relief programs, which provided jobs for the unemployed, as selected by machine lieutenants. The city also got major federal building projects, which helped to fund the business community.[10] Crump incorporated the black leadership in his outer circle by dispensing patronage in return for the black vote. Memphis was one of the largest southern cities in which blacks could vote,[11] although segregation was as rigid as elsewhere in the South.[10]


Statue of E.H. Crump in Overton Park, Memphis, Tennessee.
Original 1949 Memphis nameplate of Memphis & Arkansas Bridge listing Crump as chair of its commission.
  • 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, E. H. Crump Memorial Hospital,[12] and Crump Boulevard are named after him. He also chaired the joint Memphis-Arkansas commission that oversaw the construction of the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, originally (1949) at the end of Crump Boulevard but now part of Interstate 55.
  • The lyrics to "The Memphis Blues" by composer and bandleader W. C. Handy mention "Mr. Crump." The song was published in 1912, but may have originated during Crump's 1909 mayoral campaign.[13]
  • The lyrics to "Motel in Memphis" by Old Crow Medicine Show also mention "Mr. Crump" and his involvement in the political machine that shaped the city.
  • Crump appointed Lloyd Binford to be head of the Memphis Censor Board which governed approval and editing of movies, a position he maintained with Crump's support from 1928–1955. Binford imposed harsh and erratic censorship during his era, leading Memphis to have a different selection of movies available than any other part of America. Among Binford's objections included movies with train robberies, movies that showed blacks and whites together at any time, movies that included actors of whom he disapproved, and other quibbles. Theaters in nearby towns would advertise that their movies were "banned in Memphis".[14]
  • One of Crump's Memphis society friends was Georgia Tann, who served as head of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. Historians generally believe that Crump saw Tann as most other respectable residents did - as a hard-working, dedicated social worker worthy of support and protection - but in reality, Tann performed unethical black market adoptions for fees, acquired many adoptees via misrepresentation and trickery to their birth parents, and let difficult-to-place orphans and wards simply die of malnutrition, conduct considered scandalous even for the era had it been more widely known.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  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. ^ Beito, David T. (2023). The New Deal's War on the Bill of Rights: The Untold Story of FDR's Concentration Camps, Censorship, and Mass Surveillance (First ed.). Oakland: Institute. pp. 237–241. ISBN 978-1598133561.
  9. ^ "Edward John Meeman". Tennessee Encyclopedia. January 1, 2010. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Roger Biles (1986). Memphis In the Great Depression. University of Tennessee Press. pp. 88–107. ISBN 978-1572331570.
  11. ^ "Memphis, la musique en héritage". Radio France (in French). 2020-10-11. Retrieved 2022-06-13.
  12. ^ "E H Crump Memorial Hospital (historical) (in Shelby County, TN)". Tennessee.hometownlocator.com. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  13. ^ Slotkin, J.S. "Jazz and its Forerunners as an example of acculturation." American Sociological Review, Vol. 8, No. 5 (Oct., 1943), 571-572
  14. ^ "Banned in Memphis". MemphisFlyer.
  15. ^ Barbara B. Raymond (2007). The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. Carroll and Graf. p. 320. ISBN 978-1402758638.
  16. ^ Koeppel, Fredric. "Author spent 16 years delving into the power Georgia Tann wielded and the victims she left". Commercial Appeal. Archived from the original on September 29, 2018. Retrieved May 22, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Biles, Roger. (1986) Memphis In The Great Depression Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
  • Biles, Roger. "Ed Crump versus the unions: The labor movement in Memphis during the 1930s." Labor History 25.4 (1984): 533–552.
  • Dowdy, G. Wayne. (2006) Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Kitchens, Allen H. Ouster of Mayor Edward H. Crump, 1915-1916 West Tennessee Historical Society Papers (1965) 19:105-120.
  • Kitchens, Allen H. "Political Upheaval in Tennessee: Boss Crump and the Senatorial Election of 1948". West Tennessee Historical Society Papers (1962). 16: 104-126
  • Miller, William D. Mr. Crump of Memphis (Louisiana State University Press, 1964), the major scholarly biography
  • Miller, William D. Memphis during the Progressive Era, 1900-1917 (1957) online
  • Walker, Randolph Meade. "The Role of the Black Clergy in Memphis During the Crump Era." West Tennessee Historical Society Papers 1979. 33:29-47.
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
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 10th congressional district

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

Succeeded by