Ministers In Mayor Crump’s Pocket

(When political power was the prize, legendary politician Edward Crump knew how to get the influencers of the first half of the 20th century Memphis on his team. One could play with him, one could play against him but one could never opt out of the game. Crump and his machine had a way of rewarding his allies and punishing his foes. And for Ed Crump, locally clergy were not exempt.)

The Ministers who were in Crump’s pocket were usually there by force. They all had to know they were being used and exploited, but to have gone against the machine would have meant political suicide. They all wanted what was best for their congregation, usually those were the largest congregations in Memphis.

In Roger Biles book Memphis in the Great Depression he states on Page 44  “ Black Clergy, was one of the key sources of influence in the Black Community, stood solidly in Crump’s corner. “

Crump and his political machine knew how to manipulate everyone. From the wealthiest and most politically revered leader in small county communities to the Ward boss within the City of Memphis the Crump machine knew how to get exactly what they wanted and what they wanted was control, power, and money.   Crump’s influence covered the entire state. His machine was able to control and manipulate primarily the black vote by working through ministers who could muster over 30,000 votes for the machine candidate. Even though a staunch Democrat, Crump would seek out a state political candidate, one who he could control, even though he might be a Republican. He would then throw his support behind the candidate.  He did this from the Governor on down.

Since there was no voter registration at the time, off duty Police and Firemen driving city trucks, would go into the black neighborhoods and pick up droves of Memphians and take them to each voting place where they would vote for the Machine candidate. The poll watchers were all Machine members who knew how each person voted. If you didn’t vote for the Machine candidate, your name was put on a card and kept by Crump crony Joseph P. Boyle. If your relatives were Police, Fire or a teacher, and you didn’t vote properly, your relative was FIRED.  Blacks in Memphis were allowed to vote, but only for the machine candidate.  These controlled Memphians would be paid in whisky, food, and other favors. .

There were other clergy involved, these were the pastors of the largest congregations influenced by the Crump machine.

Dr. J. L. Campbell, St Stephens Baptist Church, 512 N Third Street

Dr. Thomas O Fuller, First Baptist Church, 379 Beale Street

Dr. J. A. Grant of 2nd Congregational Church, 766 Walker Ave

Pastor A. D. Bell, Mt Moriah Baptist Church, 2634 Carnes Ave

Dr. Blair T. Hunt, Mississippi Blvd Christian Church,

These were all men of character, courage, and the love of the Lord but even they could not resist the tyranny and force of the Crump machine.  They had NO choice.  They had bought into Crump’s idea of separate but equal which at least gave them a place at the table.  They had to go along with the wishes of the machine or just like Dr. J. B. Martin and businessman Gerald B Stratton, they would be run out of town. If the machine told you to do what they wanted, you did it or you and everything you stood for was taken away. That was the Crump way of doing business.

According to an article in the Baltimore Evening Sun Newspaper, May 21, 1946, “In Memphis if Crump didn’t like a businessman, his taxes were raised, and if a preacher displeased the machine his church didn’t pass their fire inspection. “

This also happened to whites as well. The Crump machine didn’t care what color you were as long as you were doing what they demanded. For those businessmen who voted the Machine way and who donated money to the Crump coffers, rewards were given.

Roger Bile’s also made this statement on page 39 of his book,  “Civil Liberties, particularly freedom of speech, took a holiday under Crump Rule.” Those changes affected everyone.

The members of the large churches were rewarded with jobs, parks for their neighborhoods, and all kinds of perks not afforded to other black Memphians. It was the task of these ministers, or so thought the Crump machine, to influence who their church members voted for and to be happy about it. They also preached racial harmony which we all know meant just the opposite.  Crump ran Memphis and Shelby County just like a plantation where he was the “Master ”

In Laurie Greens book Battling Plantation Mentality she says this on page 22. “Crump drew into his circle a select group of black leadership. Ministers who delivered the votes and advocated racial cooperation in return for positions and construction of segregated institutions like Public Schools, and Parks. “

In Roger Bile’s book on page 44 he states, “Political power and civic authority was given to these ministers as well as jobs for their members. Parks for votes and city Jobs for participation.“

The phrase “separate but equal” was never equal.

Battling the Plantation Mentality, Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle by Laurie Green

Memphis in the Great Depression by Roger Bile’s

Baltimore Evening Sun Newspaper, May 21, 1946


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

1 thought on “Ministers In Mayor Crump’s Pocket

  1. My Grandfather was Memphis Fire Dept during the Crump years. Exactly as Mr. Lowrey stated here on election day he would drive Memphians, mostly black, to the polls where they voted for Mr. Crump. He felt a great loyalty to Mr. Crump because as a young man in the late 1920’s He was a starving family man that came to Memphis to try to find employment. Farming was starving my mother as a child. Mr. Crump got him on the Fire Department and they lived well during the depression. My grandfather always felt he owed Mr. Crump but was very quiet. I don’t think he liked having to be a “crony” but he had to feed his family.

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