Edward Hull "Boss" Crump

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Edward Hull "Boss" Crump

Birthdate: (80)
Death: 1954 (80)
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Hull Crump and Mary Crump

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About Edward Hull "Boss" Crump


Edward Hull "Boss" Crump (October 2, 1874 – October 16, 1954) was an American politician from Memphis, Tennessee. He was mayor from 1910 through 1915, and again briefly in 1940; in the intervening years he effectively appointed the mayors.


A native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, Crump moved to Memphis in 1892 and became a successful businessman, and 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.

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. 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 ally themselves with Crump in order to accomplish any of their goals and, often, they did.

Crump was very influential for nearly half a century. He usually preferred to work behind the scenes and served only 3 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 appointed governor when Austin Peay died. 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 re-election 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, 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 US 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 24 h.

His statewide influence began to wane in the late 1940s. Two powerful opponents were elected to office in 1948. Gordon Browning, a one-time protege whom Crump had helped elect governor in 1936, was elected governor again, now over Crump's opposition, while Estes Kefauver was elected to the United States Senate. For the rest of his life, Crump's influence was limited to Memphis. In 1952, his longtime associate, Sen. Kenneth McKellar was defeated in the Democratic primary by Albert Gore, Sr.. 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.


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 jurisidictions. He was one of the early supporters of automobile safety inspections; all of Memphis-registered vehicles are inspected annually (twice a year until the 1990s). 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. 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.

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Edward Hull "Boss" Crump's Timeline

Age 80