E. H. Crump

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Edward Hull "Boss" Crump
E.H. Crump cph.3b20183.jpg
Crump in 1945
Mayor of Memphis
In office
Preceded by James H. Malone
Succeeded by George C. Love

Edward Hull "Boss" Crump (October 2, 1874 – October 16, 1954) was an American politician from Memphis, Tennessee. He was the dominant force in the city's politics for most of the first half of the 20th century, and also dominated Tennessee state politics for most of the time from the 1920s to the 1940s. He was only mayor of Memphis from 1910 through 1915, and again briefly in 1940. However, he effectively appointed every mayor from 1915 to 1954.


A native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, Crump moved to Memphis, Tennessee on September 21, 1893, according to the Holly Springs Reporter.[1] When he first arrived in Memphis, the on-going Panic of 1893, the worst recession in the United States history to that time, made things hard for Crump. However, 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.

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] Betty was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Robert McLean. Robert McLean 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 appointed Commissioner of Fire and Police in 1907.[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 as Memphis blacks were reliable Crump machine voters for the most part. One of Crump's lieutenants in the black community was funeral director N. J. Ford, whose family (in the persons of sons Harold Sr. and John Ford, daughter Ophelia and grandson Harold, Jr.) is still influential in Memphis politics today. A symbiotic relationship developed in which blacks aided Crump and Crump aided them. Crump also skillfully manipulated Republicans, who were numerically very weak in the western two-thirds of the state, but dominated politics in East Tennessee. Frequently, they found it necessary to align themselves with Crump in order to accomplish any of their goals.

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 a delegate to the Democratic National Convention seven times.

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 been speaker of the state senate and became governor when Austin Peay died.[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 lopsided McAlister vote in 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, staying in constant communication with his operatives there and visiting during all Congressional recesses.

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 actually 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 24 hours.

Crump's statewide influence began to wane in the late 1940s. Two powerful opponents were elected to office in 1948. Gordon Browning, a one-time protégé whom Crump had helped elect governor in 1936, was elected governor again, now over Crump's opposition, while Congressman Estes Kefauver was elected to the United States Senate. 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, the real contest in Tennessee—by Congressman Albert Gore. The days of Crump's massive influence over Tennessee politics were almost over; his death came less than two years later. A final triumph for Crump was the victory of his chosen candidate, Frank G. Clement, over Browning for governor, also in 1952. Crump was interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.[8]


Statue of E.H. Crump in Overton Park, Memphis, Tennessee.

Crump's marks on Memphis can be seen even today. Crump was a strong supporter of fire service and for many years the Memphis Fire Department was considered one of the very best in the country, and is still quite well regarded. He felt separate operations for each municipal utility were inherently inefficient; today, Memphis Light, Gas and Water is one of the largest combined municipal utilities in the United States.

He believed 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 one of the early supporters of automobile safety inspections; all of Memphis-registered vehicles were inspected annually (twice a year until the 1990s), until June 28th, 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 as well. Although many of these projects and innovations are said to have benefited Crump personally in one way or another, it is inarguable that they have benefited the city of Memphis greatly as well.

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) still have sealed 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. ^ Find A Grave: Edward H. Crump.
  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