Lucius E. Burch Jr.

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Lucius E. Burch Jr.
Lucius Edward Burch Jr.

(1912-01-25)January 25, 1912
DiedMarch 10, 1996(1996-03-10) (aged 84)
Burial placeMount Olivet Cemetery
EducationVanderbilt University
Occupation(s)Lawyer, conservationist
Political partyDemocratic
Elsie Caldwell
(m. 1935)

Lucius Edward Burch Jr. (January 25, 1912 – March 10, 1996) was an American lawyer based in Memphis, Tennessee, best known for his contributions in the areas of conservation and civil rights and has been described as "the most liberal conscience in Memphis."[1]

Early life[edit]

Burch was born near Nashville, Tennessee, in 1912. His father, Dr. Lucius E. Burch, was the Dean of Vanderbilt University Medical School, and his mother was the former Sarah ("Sadie") Polk Cooper. The family's ancestry included U.S. presidents Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, Nashville founder John Donelson, and Episcopal bishop and Confederate Army general Leonidas Polk.[2] Burch spent much of his childhood at Riverwood, a Nashville mansion that belonged to his mother's family.[3] He attended the Peabody Demonstration School (now University School of Nashville), graduating in 1930.[4] After completing his undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University, Burch enrolled at Vanderbilt University Law School, obtaining his law degree in 1936.


Burch joined the Memphis law firm of Burch, Minor and McKay, headed at the time by an uncle, Charles N. Burch. The firm's three senior partners died within the next few years and Burch inherited the firm's leadership. Together with new partners Jesse Johnson and John Porter, Burch was to lead the firm, now named Burch, Porter, and Johnson, for some fifty years.[2][5]

Burch became one of the most active trial lawyers of his era, participating in many well-known trials. He was active in political affairs, opposing the Memphis political machine of E. H. Crump and supporting the civil rights movement. In 1968, he worked on behalf of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a successful effort to lift a U.S. District Court injunction against a planned march in support of the striking workers in the Memphis sanitation strike.[2][6]

Burch was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American Bar Foundation. He served as Chairman of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission, president of the Tennessee Conservation League, and a member of the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee. A life member of the NAACP, he was also a founder, charter member, and president of the Memphis Community Relations Council.[2]


Burch wrote articles on diverse topics, ranging from hunting and fishing to civic affairs and politics.[2] In 2003, a book of Burch's collected writings was published under the title Lucius: Writings of Lucius Burch.[7] In 2007, Memphis Magazine named the book as one of "32 exceptional examples of literature by Memphians, about Memphis, or set in the city," saying of the book, "In the absence of a biography, this collection of his letters offers a glimpse into the mind and manners of this remarkable gentleman."[1]


An avid outdoorsman and an amateur pilot, Burch traveled widely to engage in hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and scuba-diving. As a young man, he worked in Alaska for the U.S. Biological Survey and the Territory of Alaska, shooting bald eagles, which were considered a nuisance. In later years, he was to become a strong supporter of wildlife conservation.[2][8]

Late in his life, Burch was a leader of efforts to save the Shelby Farms area of Shelby County from development, a conservation initiative that culminated in the establishment of the Shelby Farms Park on 6,000 acres (2,400 ha). The Lucius E. Burch State Natural Area, a 728-acre (295 ha) state natural area within Shelby Farms Park, is now named in his honor.[9][10] Among the awards that he received were the Carter Patten Award of the Tennessee Conservation League, the "Lawyer's Lawyer" Award of the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association, the Certificate of Merit of the Memphis Urban League, an honorary doctorate from Rhodes College, and honorary life membership in the Tennessee Academy of Sciences.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Burch married Elsie Caldwell in 1935. The couple were the parents of four daughters.[2] They resided in Collierville, Tennessee, and also maintained a summer cottage at Beersheba Springs that had belonged to Lucius' parents.[11][12]

His daughter, the late Lucia Burch, was the longtime lover, muse and collaborator of the photographer William Eggleston.[citation needed]

In the late 1990s, after her husband's death, Elsie Caldwell Burch donated $575,000 toward the construction of a new public library in Collierville. The library, completed in 2000, is named the Lucius E. Burch Jr. and Mrs. Elsie C. Burch Library in honor of the Burch donation.[11][13]


  1. ^ a b 32 by 32; Our list of the finest literary works with a Memphis flavor Archived 2012-06-11 at the Wayback Machine, Memphis Magazine, December 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Charles F. Newman, Lucius E. Burch Jr. (1912-1996), Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
  3. ^ Grace Benedict Paine, "Lady in Gray": Martha Watson Porter Still Roaming at Riverwood Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine, The Historic Register for the Appreciation and Preservation of Nashville's Past, Historic Nashville, Inc., Vol. 5, Spring 1984. Retrieved from Riverwood Mansion website, October 29, 2011.
  4. ^ Distinguished Alumna / Alumnus Award, University School of Nashville, accessed October 29, 2011
  5. ^ Firm History, Burch, Porter and Johnson website, accessed October 29, 2011
  6. ^ W. J. Michael Cody (2011), King at the Mountain Top: The Representation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis, April 3–4 1968 Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine, The University of Memphis Law Review, vol. 41, pages 699-707. Burch, Porter and Johnson website, accessed October 29, 2011.
  7. ^ Shirley Caldwell-Patterson, editor. Lucius: Writings of Lucius Burch. Cold River Studios (Cold Tree Press). ISBN 1-58385-019-8.
  8. ^ John Branston, City Beat: A new book about Lucius Burch reveals a man whose like we may not see again, Memphis Flyer, May 19, 2004
  9. ^ Shelby Farms to honor Lucius Burch Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine, "Your Cordova" website, October 12, 2011
  10. ^ Lucius E. Burch, Jr. Class I Scenic-Recreational State Natural Area, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation website, accessed October 29, 2011
  11. ^ a b Deanna Britton (2009), History of the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library, Collierville, TN, Tennessee Libraries, Volume 59, Number 1. Retrieved from Tennessee Library Association website, October 29, 2011
  12. ^ Beersheba Springs; 150 Years 1833 - 1983; A History and a Celebration. Beersheba Springs Historical Society, Beersheba Springs, Tennessee. 1983. Pages 63-64.
  13. ^ Lucius E. Burch, Jr. and Mrs. Elsie C. Burch Library, lib-web-cats library directory, accessed October 29, 2011