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Mayor Crump Don't Like It

Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis

G. Wayne Dowdy
Copyright Date: 2006
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    Mayor Crump Don't Like It
    Book Description:

    In the 1930s thousands of African Americans abandoned their long-standing allegiance to the party of Abraham Lincoln and began voting for Democratic Party candidates. This new voting pattern remapped the nation's political landscape and altered the relationship between citizen and government.

    One of the forgotten builders of this modern Democratic Party was Memphis mayor and congressman Edward Hull Crump (1874-1954). Crump created a biracial, multiethnic coalition within the segregated South that transformed the Mississippi Delta's largest city into a modern southern metropolis. Crump expanded city regulatory power, increased government efficiency and established a publicly owned electric utility. In addition, he secured a comprehensive flood control system for portions of the lower Mississippi River Valley. G. Wayne Dowdy cataloged the personal papers of Crump for the Memphis Public Library and brings southern political history to life in this biography.

    In the 1930s Crump emerged as a national leader who influenced the direction of American politics. In 1936 Time described Crump as "one of the South's most remarkable politicians." A political advisor to Franklin Roosevelt, Crump convinced a large number of blacks to abandon their allegiance to the Republicans for the party of FDR. Ironically, Crump's power and influence ebbed over the course of the 1940s in large part due to the increasing independence of black voters seeking to desegregate Memphis and the South. Determined to maintain segregation, Crump abandoned the Democrats in 1948 for the States' Rights Party and experienced a crushing political defeat.

    G. Wayne Dowdy is a senior librarian and archivist at the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. His work has appeared in theArkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies,CrossRoads: A Southern Culture Annual,Journal of Negro History,Tennessee Historical Quarterly, and other publications.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-076-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-2)

    On a cold winter’s day in 1894, nineteen-year-old Edward Hull Crump of Holly Springs, Mississippi, boarded a train for Memphis, the unofficial capital of the Mid-South and the logical destination for country people seeking a better life. Taking his seat, the young man perhaps reflected on his past as the locomotive pulled out of the station and headed toward the big city. Born near Holly Springs on October 2, 1874, Crump grew to adulthood within the remnants of the planter class that had led the South for generations. His father, also named Edward Hull Crump, was a cotton planter and...

  5. “A Business Government by a Business Man”
    (pp. 3-24)

    On January 4, 1906, Crump began his long political career when he was sworn in as a member of the board of public works supervisors. Wasting little time, the new supervisor challenged the status quo operation of city government by demanding the elimination of waste and the adoption of several reform measures. These included increasing the amount of license fees paid by saloons, the strict adherence to a competitive bidding process, and a speed limit for the city’s growing number of automobile drivers.¹ Old-line Memphis politicians were not interested in Crump’s reforms and blocked him at every turn. They did,...

  6. “The Black Flag of Machine Politics”
    (pp. 25-40)

    Infuriated at being removed from office, the former mayor plotted his revenge. Even though his political career was in tatters, he still had the support of some in the business community,¹ and, more importantly, he still commanded the loyalty of the Shelby County delegation and his allies sat on the local election board. At the same time, Crump had developed in his mind a kind of master plan for Memphis which included flood control, publicly owned electrical service, and the end of statewide prohibition. Unfinished business related to these three issues was a major reason for Crump to stay in...

  7. “The People Have Made Their Statement”
    (pp. 41-53)

    Crump hoped to stem the power of the Klan and Governor Peay by expanding his influence beyond the borders of Tennessee. His first step in this plan was to attend the 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York. Although by no means a national figure, Crump was not unknown in national political circles. In 1916 for example, President Woodrow Wilson extended New Year’s greetings to the former mayor.¹

    In order to secure a position at the convention, Crump needed the support of Democratic leaders from around the state. Acting on the trustee’s behalf, Senator Kenneth McKellar canvassed fellow Democrats to...

  8. “A Good Tammany Hall Tennessean”
    (pp. 54-74)

    When Watkins Overton was inaugurated mayor in January 1928, the city government of Memphis was absorbed by the Shelby County Democratic organization. The political fracture that stretched back to 1915 was healed through the merger of county machine and city government, in effect creating a consolidated city/county government. Crump was head of this combined government, with the mayor acting as his chief advisor. Other high-ranking members of the organization were county commission chairman E. W. Hale, county attorney general W. Tyler McLain, and Frank Rice. Crump relied heavily on their counsel, referring to these men as the “generalissimos.”

    Crump and...

  9. “The Honor of Having No Opposition”
    (pp. 75-92)

    In March 1934 Crump announced that he was leaving the House of Representatives at the end of the year.¹ The congressman claimed his business interests could no longer stand his absence, but the damage done to the organization’s prestige and his disappointment in not playing a larger national role both played significant parts in his decision. Not wanting to leave the field open for rival candidates, the organization announced the following day that city attorney Walter Chandler was slated as Crump’s replacement.² A World War I veteran and former state senator, Chandler was a loyal member of the organization, but...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. “God Bless You, Boss”
    (pp. 93-107)

    Although Crump had supported Gordon Browning for governor in 1936, the two leaders barely trusted one another. Crump became suspicious when the governor began to associate with former allies of his nemesis Luke Lea. His skepticism increased after Browning appointed anti-Crump Democrat Lewis Pope to head a special investigation of the state’s back taxes office.¹ These actions suggested to Crump that Browning might form a coalition that would exclude him from state affairs. For his part, the governor expected at any moment to be treated disrespectfully by the Shelby County leader.

    Each man’s suspicion of the other weighed heavily on...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 108-113)

    When Crump returned from New Orleans in early January 1940 his political organization was one of the most powerful in the United States. However, the circumstances that created the Crump machine soon began to change. The most noticeable difference was the lack of effective leadership below Crump. Up to the late 19308 Crump had relied heavily on the skill of the generalissimos. Overton, Rice, Hale, and McLain were often consulted and their views were weighed before a decision was made. Those who took their place, Mayor Chandler, public safety commissioner Joseph Boyle, and city attorney Will Gerber, were more likely...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 114-118)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 119-143)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 144-148)
  16. Index
    (pp. 149-159)