E. H. Crump

Edward Hull Crump (October 2,1874October 16,1954) was a Memphis, Tennessee insurance broker, businessman, and political figure in the early 20th century.

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 would serve 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 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 essentially two political minority groups in Tennessee, blacks and Republicans. Unlike most Southern Democrats of his era, Crump was not opposed to blacks voting – as long as they always voted his way. Blacks were reliable Crump machine voters for the most part, serving roughly the same role for him that recent immigrants did in most Northern political machines. Crump also skillfully manipulated Republicans, who were numerically very weak in the western two-thirds of the state but dominated politics in East Tennessee. Often they found it necessary to ally themselves with Crump in order to accomplish any of their goals, and they often did.

Crump was very influential for nearly half a century. He preferred to work for the most part behind the scenes, serving only three terms of two years each as mayor of Memphis (19101916) at the beginning of his career, but essentially naming 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 a total of seven times.

After several years of working behind the scenes, Crump decided to run for Congress in 1930. He was easily elected to the former Tenth District, which was co-extensive with Shelby County. He served two terms, March 4, 1931January 3, 1935. (During his service the Twentieth Amendment was ratified, redefining the starting dates of Congressional and Presidential 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 he was named to the Democratic National Committee, serving on that body until 1945. In 1939 he was elected to a final term as mayor.

His statewide influence began to wane in the late 1940s, when two of his opponents were elected to office in 1948, Gordon Browning, a onetime protege who had broken with him returning to become governor again, and Estes Kefauver being elected to the United States Senate. For the remainder of his life, the bulk of his influence was limited to Memphis. The defeat of his longtime associate Kenneth McKellar by Albert Gore, Sr. for United States Senate in 1952 marked another turning point, and the days of his massive influence over Tennessee politics were over, his death coming less than two years later. He was interred at Memphis' Elmwood Cemetery.

However, 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 a medium-sized city and is still quite well-regarded. He felt separate operations for each municipal utility were inherently inefficient; today the Memphis Division of Light, Gas, & Water is one of the largest combined municipal utilites in the United States. He believed that cities should not be unnecessarily 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 in the Deep South; all Mempis-registered vehicles are inspected annually (twice a year until the 1990s). Although many of these 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.


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