While our mayor and public officials are busy worrying about what damage Confederate statues might do to our citizens, there is one statue that they don’t talk about.
It’s not Christopher Columbus, although he was moved to a park in east Memphis, or the miniature of slave owning autocrat Ramses. It’s this one:
E.H. (Boss) Crump. He stands at the entrance to Overton Park with a defiant, goofy pose. As a friend of black Republicans, I find this unacceptable.
True, he was mayor of Memphis from 1910 to 1915. But he was also a racist who kept blacks under his thumb through intimidation and violence. Look what he did to Robert Church, the South’s first black billionaire.
At first, Church and Crump coexisted well enough. Church had a mansion on South Lauderdale in a predominantly white neighborhood. It irked Crump. Church also was a prominent Republican, pushing for black voting. Crump retaliated by causing Church to lose everything from his properties to his organizations. Crump said to a newspaper “You have a bunch of niggers teaching social equality, stirring up racial hatred. I am not going to stand for it. I’ve dealt with niggers all my life, and I know how to treat them … This is Memphis.”
Crump had a plan, as described by Placesjournal.com
In the afternoon of February 26, 1953, fire destroyed a landmark in south Memphis, on Lauderdale Street. A stately three-story home, with eighteen rooms and twin gables, burned from its spires down.
Firefighters weren’t late to the blaze — in fact, they’d ignited it. The city of Memphis, which was then hosting a convention of fire safety officials from around the country, had authorized the burning of the vacant mansion in order to demonstrate a new, efficient, fog nozzle fire-hose. Thousands stood in the street to watch. For two hours, firemen in black helmets and black slickers fought flames that burst through the roof and out of the windows. After blasting down each fire, they set another part of the home ablaze. Afterwards, the ruins steamed. 1
But there was much more to this demonstration than a test of new firefighting equipment. As locals understood, the burning of this particular home was an assertion of power, because of who it had belonged to and what it symbolized. Abandoned, weather-beaten, but still grand, the mansion at 384 South Lauderdale represented the pinnacle of black achievement in the city.
Blacks got the message and stopped living in white areas.
Yet Crump stands there proudly today and no one says a thing.
Perhaps it is because Crump and Strickland share more than just being mayor of our city. They both have a (D) by their names.