Jerry Summers: Edward H. “Boss” Crump - Memphis (1874-1954)

  • Tuesday, March 28, 2023
  • Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Memphis has not always been a city that has encountered the recent problems that have existed in the Bluff City following the reign of one of the most dominant political figures in the state of Tennessee.

“Boss” Crump was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1874 and moved to Memphis as a 17-year-old bookkeeper, married the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and began a political career that lasted until his death in 1954.

Crump was a close political ally of Senator Kenneth D. McKellar, who together would form probably the most powerful political team in the state’s history.

Crump’s main strength was his ability to run an un-elected efficient administration in Shelby County and was able to build a powerful statewide political machine that guaranteed his financial security but also satisfied the citizens in allowing Memphis to function under his absolute power and control. Patronage with city employees provided clean streets, daily garbage service, strict law and order in the area of crime, low taxes on property, and a modest government budget kept costs low in the Crump administration.

The “boss” formed an insurance company after he obtained political power in the late 1920s. It required any business that started in Memphis to purchase their insurance coverage through the Crump Agency or city inspectors would find reasons to prevent the business to start operating. As a result he became a multi-millionaire in insurance and soft drink franchising.

With the persona name of the “Red Snapper”, the “boss” allowed his political organization to intimidate union organizers and the black leadership of the community with both violence and tactics that would result in many leaving town.

With the use of a statewide poll tax in elections the poor and minorities were discouraged from voting and guaranteed a lower voter turnout that could be more easily controlled by the Crump Machine.

Third District Congressman Estes Kefauver(E.K.) of Chattanooga incurred the wrath of Boss Crump in the 1948 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by Senator Tom Stewart.

Crump's famous comment about Kefauver in a political ad in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper on June 10, 1948 was, “Estes Kefauver Assumes the Role of A Pet Coon” suggesting that E.K. was a raccoon-like instrument of communists as he supported Stewart.

Kefauver quickly responded that “I may be a pet coon, but I’m not Boss Crump’s pet coon.” It was a significant factor that led Kefauver to victory. An abundance of raccoons suddenly showed up at Kefauver’s rallies and the Chattanoogan was not embarrassed by also wearing a coonskin cap to the chagrin of some of his political advisers, but the cap helped. However, the dominance of the Democratic Party in Tennessee during that era was probably more significant as E.K. not only defeated the sitting senator in Congress but also his Republican opponent, Congressman J. Carroll Reece from Johnson City.

That defeat in 1948 and its election of Albert Gore, Jr. in 1952, who defeated Crump’s closest political ally over the years, Senator McKellar, effectively ended Crump’s statewide influence but he would remain a dominant force in Memphis until his death.

(This was an important chapter in the political history of the Volunteer State.)

* * *

You can reach Jerry Summers at

Drag Show Featured At Cherry Street Tavern On Wednesday Night
  • 6/2/2023

Obvious Dad, described as "the boldest theater company in Chattanooga," kicks off its third season with the Dad Gala event next Wednesday followed by the opening night of Sagittarius Ponderosa ... more

Meet Author Frank Varney At Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park June 9
  • 6/2/2023

In partnership with the National Park Service, America’s National Parks invites the public to meet author Dr. Frank Varney on Friday, June 9. At 10 a.m., Varney will provide a program, hosted ... more

Upcoming Special Event Road Closures Announced
  • 6/2/2023

The Chattanooga Division of Transportation announces the following upcoming special event road closures: Nightfall The following roads and intersections will be closed every Friday ... more