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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Edward Hull (E.H.) Crump

E.H. Crump cph.3b20183.jpg 
Edward Hull "Boss" Crump in 1945
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 1920's to the 1940's. 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.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. 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." 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.


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.

Starting in the 1910's, 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 1880's; 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. 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. 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.

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 1940's. 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. 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.

The Crump machine

From the 1910's to the 1950's, Memphis was a locus of machine politics under the direction of "Boss" Crump, a Democrat. 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 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. Second, 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 were of 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 fund the business community. Crump incorporated the black leadership in his outer circle, dispensing patronage in return for the black vote. Memphis was one of the largest southern cities in which blacks could vote, but segregation was as rigid as anywhere.


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.
  • 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.
Crump's association with Georgia Tann suggests a less flattering view of his legacy. 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.
Boss E. H. Crump's Influence In Politics

Edward Hull Crump: The Boss, Part VII

Despite encountering stiff opposition to the candidates supported by Shelby County Boss E. H. Crump and Tennessee’s senior United States Senator Kenneth D. McKellar, the two men were supporting Jim Nance McCord for governor in 1944.

McCord had been elected to a single term in Congress, but had held one elective office or another in his native Marshall County for decades.  McCord ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination without opposition and easily won the general election.  Both McKellar and Crump supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unprecedented bid for a fourth term that same year.

FDR summoned Crump to the White House as he began his fourth term for a conference.  The purpose of the conference was to encourage Crump to convince Senator K. D. McKellar to retire in 1946.  Roosevelt was anticipating the post-war world and he thought it would be a better one without McKellar in the Senate.  McKellar was then reaching the apex of his political career and wielded enormous influence in the United States Senate.  He had just been elected President Pro Tempore by his colleagues and was the Acting Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as Chairman of the Senate’s Post Office Committee.  FDR likely did not wish to have to contend with the McKellar influence in the Senate.

Crump told President Roosevelt that McKellar intended to run again in 1946 and to which FDR replied that if he did, McKellar would be beaten.  Crump, understanding Tennessee politics far better than FDR, retorted McKellar would not only run again, but would be reelected to a sixth term.  Crump was right; McKellar was reelected to another term in the United States Senate and by that time FDR lay in his own grave.

Crump decided in 1945 to give up his post as Tennessee’s committeeman on the Democratic National Committee.  Morristown businessman Herbert S. “Hub” Walters, a McKellar stalwart, took Crump’s place on the national committee.

The opposition to the McKellar – Crump domination of Tennessee politics made a stronger effort in the 1946 elections.  Edward “Ned” Carmack had quite nearly defeated junior United States Senator Tom Stewart in 1942 and Stewart’s margin of victory had come from Shelby County.  Carmack was eager to hold public office and had announced as a candidate for governor in 1944, but had dropped out well before the primary.  Chattanooga Congressman Estes Kefauver had seriously considered running against McKellar, but after making a few inquiries decided the old senator was still a formidable candidate.  Kefauver opted to run again for Congress, leaving Carmack to make the race against Senator McKellar.

Jim McCord was to be opposed by former governor Gordon Browning, who remained in Europe following the allied victory in World War II as part of the military government.  Browning’s campaign would be run in absentia, while Carmack carried most of the brunt of the actual campaigning.  McCord and McKellar ran as a ticket, along with Andrew “Tip” Taylor for the Public Service Commission.  As it turned out, McKellar’s own campaign was run in absentia.  Despite several announcements McKellar was returning to Tennessee to personally participate in the campaign, the senator remained in Washington, D. C.  Tennessee was brutally hot throughout the summer of 1946 and Senator McKellar was plagued by various ailments and illnesses and his campaign managers thought it best for him to remain at his post of duty in the Senate.

Tennesseans were once again treated to Crump purchasing full-page ads in newspapers throughout the state promoting Senator McKellar and Governor McCord.  In his ads, the Memphis Boss ridiculed the opposition to the McCord – McKellar ticket.  Crump’s loathing of Gordon Browning was as profound as ever.  Crump’s comments about the former governor were as pointed as they had been during Browning’s failed reelection bid in 1938.  Crump had claimed a particular art gallery in France held no less than twenty-six pictures of Judas Iscariot and opined, “None look alike, but they all resemble Gordon Browning.”

Unlike 1942, the election was not close.  Senator McKellar thrashed Ned Carmack without having even returned once to Tennessee to campaign for reelection personally.  Governor McCord easily defeated Gordon Browning.  It was to be the last election which the McKellar – Crump alliance won a smashing victory.

Yet in Memphis Crump remained as strong as ever.  Memphis had won several nationally prestigious awards over the years and the municipal stadium in Memphis was named for Crump.  The machine’s candidates occupied virtually every office in both the city and county governments.

As the 1948 elections loomed, Crump, like many Southerners, was growing increasingly alarmed by President Harry Truman’s commitment to civil rights.  Oddly one of Crump’s strongest objections to Truman was the fact the Missourian had come from the Pendergast machine in Kansas City.  Crump and McKellar both were dissatisfied with Truman and the Memphis Boss was soon indicating he would support the State’s Right ticket of South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond and Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright.  McKellar refused to leave the Democratic Party following the convention nominating Truman, but he told Crump he held out little hope for Truman being elected.

Crump’s dissatisfaction was hardly confined to Harry Truman; the Memphis Boss was not enthused about Senator Tom Stewart, who was also up for reelection in 1948.  Crump had been mortally embarrassed wen Stewart had been reelected in 1942 on the basis of the vote returns in Shelby County.  Crump was also constantly reminded by Will Gerber, a prominent attorney and sometime Crump officeholder in Shelby County, that Stewart very well might be anti-Semitic, though there was little in Stewart’s record to reflect that allegation.  In December of 1947 came the announcement Crump would not support Senator Stewart for renomination in the Democratic primary the following year.  Many expected Stewart to simply meekly retire to private life rather than run again and Crump probably thought the same thing.  Stewart stubbornly insisted he would be a candidate with or without Crump’s support.  Congressman Estes Kefauver, seeing his opportunity with the split in the machine, declared he, too, would be a candidate.  It proved to be Crump’s single biggest political miscalculation and mistake.

Crump’s senatorial candidate was Judge John A. Mitchell of Cookeville who was a cousin of former Congressman J. Ridley Mitchell, who had been a Crump opponent.  Crump had never even met John Mitchell, although he related he heard fine things about the judge.

Senator McKellar wrote Crump to say he had informed his junior colleague that he could not help him win reelection and noted Stewart had taken the news “coolly”.  McKellar went on to confess that Senator Stewart had “not had much to do with me since.”  McKellar admitted he was embarrassed by the situation and told the Memphis Boss he did not believe Judge Mitchell could win.

As the election approached, Crump grew increasingly uneasy and Senator McKellar stressed the importance of defeating Congressman Kefauver.  There were indications Crump intended to drop his support of Judge Mitchell and again back Senator Stewart.  The Kefauver campaign having heard the rumors, shrewdly predicted Crump would abandon John Mitchell and throw his support to Tom Stewart.  Crump reacted as they hoped, denouncing the claim as a lie.  He stuck with Mitchell to the bitter end and Kefauver won the senatorial nomination.  Crump’s blunder was compounded by the defeat of Governor Jim McCord by Gordon Browning, who was back in Tennessee and campaigning in person.
McCord, believing education needed more support in Tennessee, had convinced the legislature to institute a sales tax.  Tennesseans, not surprisingly, liked the free textbooks the tax provided, but did not like the tax.  Browning beat McCord soundly.  The Crump candidates had been overwhelmingly rejected at the polls and the Memphis Boss’s own influence would sink further when Harry Truman was elected that fall.  Although Thurmond carried Shelby County, Truman carried Tennessee.

The 1948 elections destroyed whatever national influence Ed Crump still possessed; the long rule of the McKellar – Crump alliance in Tennessee was shattered.  Both Crump and McKellar were aging and when the old senator announced in the summer of 1951 he would run for a seventh term, the Memphis Boss discreetly tried to talk McKellar out of running.  McKellar was eighty-two years old, frequently ill, and out of touch with many Tennesseans.  Once McKellar’s mind was made up, Crump determined to support his old ally again.  Crump also threw the backing of the Shelby County machine to young
Frank Clement who was making a strong bid to unseat the hated Governor Gordon Browning.
McKellar lost to Congressman Albert Gore, Sr., while Clement beat Browning.  Crump was pleased with Browning’s defeat, but it was to be his last statewide election success.  The Memphis Boss was himself aging and contented himself with local matters, his financial affairs, and his family.  Little escaped the Memphis Boss’s attention and he remained approachable by nearly everyone and his directives to city and county officials continued to flow from his office.  Crump enjoyed watching the squirrels cavort in his yard and remained the “Boss” until death carried him away.

E. H. Crump died on October 16, 1954.  Among the many mourners at Crump’s funeral was his long-time political partner and friend, former Senator Kenneth D. McKellar.  McKellar was “in pretty bad shape” at the funeral, distraught by the close of a friendship and association that spanned almost five decades.

Crump’s influence in Memphis and Shelby County lasted several years following his passing.  There are still numerous reminders in Memphis of Crump’s long rule and there is an imposing of statue of E. H. Crump in Overton Park.  The statue still surveys what was once completely Crump’s domain.

Written By: Ray Hill

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