Forgotten Hero – Elijah William “Will” Hale, Senior

The Nashville Tennessean Newspaper was quoted as saying “he ran the day to day business operations of Shelby County Government during the E.H. Crump Machine era.”

Born in Oxford Mississippi on January 4, 1875 his family moved to Whitehaven in 1894 where he joined his father J.W. Hale in the family store. In 1906 he was elected magistrate of the 12th district of Shelby County.

Memphis and Shelby County, under Mayor E.H. Crump’s control, adopted a Commission form of Government in 1911, which was the same year that Will started a lifelong friendship with Mr. Crump. In 1922 Mr. Hale was elected as Chairman of the Shelby County Commission.

Hale was also frequently described as a mastermind of business. He ran the Democratic Party in the county and all small county town leaders answered to him. He was considered one of E. H. Crump’s closest Lieutenants and one of the most influential members of the Crump Machine.Hale was on the same level as Frank Roxie Rice who was considered Crump’s number one.

Mr.Hale was instrumental in purchasing the property in what is now the Penal Farm and Shelby Farms.
From the late 40′ and into the 50’ and 60’s experiments designed to assist farmers that were first tested in the area get more profit from their yields. (1)

Will Hale’s disposition was colorless, even bland in comparison with the often boisterous, bullying and intimidating tactics of Crumps “hatchet man” Frank Roxie Rice. Hale was a man of absolute integrity, and his peers recognized it and chose to follow the leader that he was. (5) He went about the business of streamlining and centralizing county government, reducing it from fifty two Justices of the Peace to twenty two and transferred some of their power to three County Commissioners. The Commission quickly fell under the domination of the obliging Mr. Crump, who turned over the day to day operations to Will Hale. (2)

In June 1935 the 800 bed Shelby County Hospital was completed. This modern hospital replaced both the Isolation Hospital, aka the Pest House, located on Hindman Ferry Rd, and the County Emergency Hospital at the old County Workhouse and Poor Farm located at Jackson and Guernsey. Commission Chairman Hale provided the leadership needed for this ambitious project to succeed.
When you drive through rural Shelby County today you can thank Will Hale for his dedication to making county roads is just as safe as city streets. (4) This was just another part of his tireless work to have the best of everything for rural Shelby County.

In March of 1939 he along with the movers and shakers of Shelby County were placed on a committee to study a new bridge to span the mighty Mississippi River.

The entire Hale family is involved in public service to Shelby County. Mrs. Hale was a prominent member of the PTA in both Shelby County and at the state level. On January 23, 1939 Will’s son, E.W. Hale Jr., a 39 year old attorney, was appointed by E. H. Crump as West Tennessee’s representative on the new state Election Commission. Upon the appointment Mr. Crump asserted “He is a fine worthy young man“ (3)

The elder Hale served for 44 years as a County Commissioner and 32 of that as Chairman. Suffering from a respiratory ailment he retired January 1, 1956. For Crump to have given Will Hale the power to run the County meant that he had absolute trust in his ability to lead.

Nashville Tennessean 17, December, 1959,  page 60

Memphis in the Great Depression, by Roger Bile’s

The Knoxville Journal, 24, January, 1939 page 8

Paul R Coppock’s MIDSOUTH Vol. III 1976-1978

Mr. Crump of Memphis, By William Miller

Digital Archive of the Memphis Public Library


Written by Joe Lowry with research and editorial assistance by Trish Gully.

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