William B. Ingram   

As a man of the law, William B. Ingram was about looking out for the underdog, fair play, and civil rights.

He was born on June 29, 1921, in Hollandale, Mississippi, Walker County, and raised in Brownsville, Tennessee. He died on February 29, 1979.

In 1940 William B. Ingram moved to Memphis, Tennessee. When WWII was declared, he enlisted and trained as a fighter pilot. He was shot down over Belgium, captured, and was a prisoner-of-war for 13 months. After the war, Ingram returned to Memphis, graduated from Southwestern College, and earned his law degree from Southern Law School. After passing the bar in 1950, he worked as an attorney for the Memphis Light Gas and Water Utility company.

In 1957 The City of Memphis added a third division of traffic Court. The Memphis Bar Association recommended young W.B. Ingram to serve as the Judge. In his acceptance speech as Traffic Judge, he said, “At no time in our city’s history have the rights of the individual been in such extreme danger. No judge, he declared, should ever yield to the political, psychological, and sociological pressure of the times.”

For many years, whenever the police arrested or ticketed someone, all judges “supported the Memphis Police Department’s version of events” and backed up the police even though their evidence may have been poor or nonexistent.

 Judge Ingram was known for allowing the defendants to plead their case. Moreover, the defendant’s information was often more accurate in many cases than the police. He believed there were always two sides to every story and wanted to hear the defendant’s version of what happened. He allowed the public to stand up, state their case, and tell their side in his courtroom.

If the Police Dept. could not produce enough evidence to satisfy him, Judge Ingram did not budge and held them to the legal standard of burden of proof. No citizen, rich, poor, or otherwise, was treated differently, and a new respect and fairness for all emanated from his court. Judge Ingram had a tremendous following because, in his courtroom, he treated everyone with respect; something not often seen in other courtrooms. This opinion was from blacks and whites equally. He was all about citizens’ rights, something not typically practiced in the Memphis legal system. He told the press, “If the Police are supposed to win every case, there is no need for judges.”

The Memphis Police Department Police Chief J. C. McDonald and Commissioner Claude Armour always stayed mad at him. These new courtroom actions sometimes made the MPD look inept and dishonest. The citizens, mainly black and poor whites, liked him because they felt respected for the first time and were getting a fair shake.

The Democratic party supported him, and Judge Ingram was easily re-elected by Memphians, who were so glad to have an honest judge who considered the rights of the accused over the often dishonesty of the MPD. He was for the people, not the government or the police department.

His employees said he was quite a controversial character but genuine, and they enjoyed working for him. Although they had some light moments, he gave the impression of being 100% serious about everything, but it was reported that he had a very dry sense of humor.

 In 1963 he ran for Mayor against William Farris. During his election, he was among the few people who could bring together Black and Ultra-Conservative White supporters.

When he took over as Mayor, he walked into a bickering unhappy mess of many Crump holdovers with segregationist attitudes.

As Mayor, he was at odds with almost everyone who ran the city, especially Commissioner Hunter Lane, Pete Sisson, Claude Armour, and Jimmy Moore. Mayor Ingram removed many staunch holdovers from past administrations from office during his first week in office on January 7, 1964. City Attorney Frank Giannotti, Assistant City Attorneys Otis France, and Jessie Vineyard were all E.H. Crump appointees. He also removed City Personnel Director Richard Barnes, Planning Commission Director Jerrold Moore, and Coliseum Manager James Oshurst.

His record and actions reflect his belief in individuals’ rights, and his decisions were straight down the line in step with his beliefs. Some Memphians were not used to that with past Mayors.

While Mayor in 1964, and during the Cotton Carnival Parade, he rode a large horse down Main Street, wearing a 10-gallon hat, as only he could.

 When he died, former City Commissioner Hunter Lane, whom he feuded with, said, “he was a strong-willed, good, honest man, and I came to like him.”

At his death, Deputy City Attorney Arthur Shea, a city prosecutor, said, “He never ran from a fight. Outwardly, he was abrasive, but once one got to know him, he was a warm and friendly guy.”

Wyeth Chandler said, “he tried to make Memphis a better place. He also praised him for being an “even-handed judge.”

Eugene Barksdale said, “I think, in time, he will prove to be one of our best mayors, he was colorful, but he was his own man.” No Memphis political faction, the power elite, or others ever controlled him.

Find A Grave record # 138198392

Commercial Appeal. August 14, 1960.

Editor/ TM Gully
Research Support – Devin Greaney

6 thoughts on “William B. Ingram   

  1. Excellent article Joe! I was 10 years old when he took office. Within my family and friends nobody liked him but since then I’ve grown to appreciate his independence and fairness. Almost single-handedly he cleaned out the remains of the old Crump machine.

  2. The article is pretty much as I remember him, but I also recall that when he ran for mayor against Bill Farris and M.A. Hinds, he claimed that he could produce a change in the city government structure (then a controversial subject, because we had the old city commission system) and he alone knew of a provision in the Tennessee law that would allow it. I also recall that in 1964 he tried single-handedly to seize the old Union Station passenger train station when the railroads were going to shut it down. He didn’t succeed.

  3. Loved reading the article Joe! It’s a shame more people in our world do not hold themselves and others to such honest and high standards. Our world would be a much better place!

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