Edward Crump

E.W. Crump PHOTO: Memphis Public Library


He was never the governor, but during much of his life E.W. Crump was considered to be the most powerful man in Tennessee.

A native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, Crump came to Memphis in 1892 and became a successful businessman. He held several political offices, including Commissioner of Fire and Police, Shelby County treasurer, Memphis mayor and U. S. Congressman. But Crump was more than the titles he held; during his lifetime he controlled Memphis politics and, at times, state politics.

Crump on the cover of Time magazine, 1946

He was so adept at controlling Memphis, Shelby County, and the state of Tennessee, that his critics called him “Boss” Crump. In the 1920s and 1930s it was difficult to get elected governor or U.S. Senator in Tennessee without Crump’s blessing.

To this day, the name “Boss” Crump evokes negative emotions with many Middle Tennesseans. But many West Tennesseans, especially African Americans, consider Crump a hero. “When I was a child, my parents told me that Boss Crump was the man who gave us the vote,” one African-American newspaper editor in Memphis said in 2006.

The late Mr. Dick Barry

William L. “Dick” Barry was the Speaker of the Tennessee State House from 1963 until 1967. When he first got elected to the legislature, Edward Crump was still a force in West Tennessee. In a August 2012 interview, he said the following about Crump:

“First of all, his name wasn’t Boss Crump. It was Edward Crump. His critics in Nashville gave him that title of Boss.

“Mr. Crump was a political leader who had the support of the people in Shelby County. During the time his influence was great, he was able to exercise a disproportionate influence on Tennessee politics. His number one interest was always Memphis and Shelby County. But he did not hesitate to endorse candidates for statewide office.

Crump’s grave in Elmwood City in Memphis

“Often, Mr. Crump had differences of opinion with people he supported after they took office. He supported Gordon Browning for governor in 1936 and Browning was elected. But they later disagreed, and so in 1938, Crumb supported Cooper and Cooper defeated Browning. Mr. Crump supported Watkins Overton for mayor of Memphis and later they split.

“In 1952, Frank Clement was elected governor, and Buford Ellington was his campaign manager. They went to Memphis after the election to thank Mr. Crump for his help. Mr. Crump said to them as they were leaving his office, ‘if you boys play it right, you can hold onto that thing for 15 or 20 years.’ Well, they held onto it for 18 years — Clement, then Ellington, then Clement, then Ellington.