NPR

The Longtime Role Of Race In Memphis Politics

Otis Sanford explores how race has shaped politics in Tennessee's second-largest city in his new book "From Boss Crump to King Willie."
Striking Memphis sanitation workers march past Tennessee National Guard troops with fixed bayonets during a 20-block march to City Hall, March 29, 1968, one day after a similar march erupted in violence, leaving one person dead and several injured. (Charlie Kelly/AP)

A new book explores how race has shaped politics in Tennessee’s second-largest city. It starts with a political boss named Edward Hull Crump, a white man who courted black voters.

Eventually, the city’s black population flexed its own political muscle and elected a black mayor for the first time in 1991. Along the way the city saw racial strife similar to many southern cities, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Otis Sanford (@OtisSanford), author of  “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics” and professor of journalism at the University of Memphis.

Interview Highlights

On Edward Hull Crump, or ‘Boss Crump’

“Boss Crump was the undisputed political and overall boss of Memphis for almost 50 years. He was only mayor a short period of time, a congressman for two terms, but he ran Memphis and Shelby County and a lot of Tennessee politics for most of his adult life. He was just a political figure that — there’s never been one like him before or after.”

On enfranchisement in Memphis and how Boss Crump won the black vote

“African Americans were voting

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min read
Banking Giant HSBC To Cut 35,000 Jobs Amid Restructuring
The bank says it will shed nearly 15% of its workforce and $100 billion in investments as it refocuses on growth markets in Asia and reduces operations in Europe and the U.S.
NPR3 min read
Voters Of Color Are Set To Have A Bigger Say As Democrats Enter A Crucial Phase
The Democratic presidential candidates have so far stood for elections in two of the whitest states in the country. That changes with Nevada and South Carolina.
NPR4 min read
Uber Whistleblower Takes On Silicon Valley, Armed With Stoic Philosophy
In 2017, Susan Fowler published a blog post that revealed Uber's misogynistic corporate culture — and helped change the world. In her memoir, she urges readers not to see her as a victim.