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Crusades for Freedom

Memphis and the Political Transformation of the American South

G. Wayne Dowdy

Publication Year: 2010

During the first half of the twentieth century, the city of Memphis was governed by the Shelby County Democratic Party controlled by Edward Hull Crump, described by Time magazine as "the most absolute political boss in the U.S." Crusades for Freedom chronicles the demise of the Crump political machine and the corresponding rise to power of the South's two minorities, African Americans and Republicans.Between the years 1948 and 1968, Memphis emerged as a battleground in the struggle to create a strong two-party South. For the first time in its history, both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates campaigned vigorously for the Bluff City's votes. Closely tied to these changing political fortunes was the struggle of African Americans to overturn two centuries of discrimination. At the same time, many believed that the city needed a more modern political structure to meet the challenges of the 1950s and 1960s, preferably a mayor-city council governmental structure. By 1968 the segregated social order had collapsed, black politicians were firmly entrenched within the Democratic party, southern whites had swelled the ranks of the GOP, and Memphis had adopted a new city charter.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This volume is a sequel of sorts to my first book, Mayor Crump Don’t Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis. (University Press of Mississippi, 2006). While that book traced the early career of legendary boss Edward Hull Crump and his construction of a biracial, multiethnic political machine in the segregated South, this volume chronicles the demise of that organization and the ...

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pp. ix-x

My colleagues in the History and Social Sciences Department at the Benja-min L. Hooks Central Library—Betty Blaylock, Andy Carter, Joan Cannon, Gina Cordell, Laura Cunningham, Jasmine Holland, Verjeana Hunt, Dr. James R. Johnson, Thomas W. Jones, Patricia M. LaPointe, Gregg L. Newby, Patrick W. O’Daniel, Belmar Toney, and Marilyn Umfrees—encouraged me ...

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1. “We Are Living in a Different Day”

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pp. 3-18

E. H. Crump was cold and wet. On January 1, 1948, he attended the Delta Bowl football game between Texas Christian and the University of Mississippi. As he sat in the stands he was buffeted by high winds and stinging rain that had blanketed Memphis. The night before, on New Year’s Eve, a tornado had touched down in rural Shelby County, killing three people and injuring eighteen.1 Meanwhile, nine hundred...

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2. “My Family Ties in the South”

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pp. 19-32

Mayor Pleasants was a tired man. Suffering from poor health and ashamed of his participation in the smear campaign against Meeman, Pleasants informed Crump in September 1948 that he wished to retire.1 Concerned that Pleasants’s resignation might affect the election, and wanting to choose a successor before the decision was announced, Crump asked the mayor to ...

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3. “All the Cooperation We Can Muster”

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pp. 33-46

By February 1953 Mayor Watkins Overton had had enough. For several months the four other members of the city commission, Claude Armour, John T. “Buddy” Dwyer, Frank Tobey, and O. P. Williams, had voted against the mayor’s proposal to construct a downtown parking garage and ignored his opposition to pensions for the widows of firefighters and police officers.1 The rift grew wider in early February...

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4. “Why Didn’t Someone Tell Us This Before?”

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pp. 47-65

Henry Loeb was ready. On September 16 he formally announced what nearly everyone already knew, that he was a candidate for a seat on the city commission. Distancing himself from the administration and Overton tickets, Loeb declared that “I offer myself without political ties or obligations. I will be free, if elected, to represent all the people without fear of favor.”1 Loeb’s independent stance distinguished...

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5. “To Compel the White Race”

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pp. 66-85

Russell Sugarmon had a plan. In early 1959 he became convinced that conditions were ripe for him to become the first African American in the twentieth century to achieve electoral office in Memphis. The Tennessee General Assembly had recently passed a law requiring political candidates in municipal elections to run for a specific school board or city commission post rather ...

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6. “Please Don’t Do That”

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pp. 86-107

A. Maceo Walker was very pleased. In March 1961 he became the first African American in the twentieth century to serve on a permanent city board when he was appointed to the Traffic Advisory Commission. Walker was nominated by Commissioner William Farris, and his appointment was widely applauded by both the black and white communities.1 The son of Dr. ...

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7. “A Great Movement Here in Memphis”

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pp. 108-137

William Ingram just couldn’t keep his promise. Elected mayor on a pledge to bring peace to city government, instead he sowed discord. The city charter stated that the mayor “shall have general supervision of all the officers of the city and see that the ordinances and provisions of the charter are observed.”1 As mayor, Ingram interpreted this passage...

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pp. 139-141

In the years following 1968, white Republicans and African American Democrats continued to dominate Memphis government and politics. In 1970 Memphian Winfield Dunn was elected governor, becoming the first Republican chief executive in over fifty years.1 Lewis Donelson served one term on the city council, and in 1978 he was appointed state commissioner of ...

Appendix A. Memphis City Government, 1948–1968

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pp. 143-144

Appendix B. Election Returns

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pp. 145-147


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pp. 149-172


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pp. 173-177


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pp. 179-183

E-ISBN-13: 9781604734249
E-ISBN-10: 1604734248
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604734232
Print-ISBN-10: 160473423X

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2010