By Wayne Dowdy
Your correspondent explains the significant events of this month in Memphis history including a government official’s visit to the Bluff City, a new way to buy goods from a local department store, a freak weather storm, the state of Memphis’s popular baseball team, and a commemoration which reveals how Civil War history was often obscured for popular consumption.
A “Post Office Dedication Tour”
Perhaps the biggest news event of the month was the visit by the Postmaster General of the United States, James Farley, who came to speak to the local chapter of the Federation of Postal Clerks.
Arriving by train from Little Rock, Farley was whisked from Union Station to the Peabody Hotel where he conferred with local post office officials and spoke by telephone to Shelby County political leader E. H. Crump, who was home recovering from an illness.
During his speech Farley outlined the recent successes of the post office department and commended the “loyalty and efficiency” of the Memphis postal clerks. A tribute was also paid to Mr. Crump when the Postmaster General stated that Memphians “are fortunate in having a man of his fine character and influence.”
A close confidant to President Franklin Roosevelt, Farley saved his most effusive praise for the 32nd chief executive. “He will go down in history as a president in the class of Washington and Lincoln. No man has done more for the masses and his second term accomplishments will be as important and as beneficial as those of his first term.”
After the banquet Farley caught a train for Chicago, the next stop in his “post office dedication tour.” As Farley’s visit suggests, Memphis played an important role in the Roosevelt administration – Mr. Crump was a floor leader for FDR during the 1932 Democratic National Convention and while in Congress the Shelby County leader voted for every piece of New Deal legislation, In return Memphis benefitted enormously from Roosevelt’s generosity.
Goldsmith’s Introduces A Card For Purchases
In financial news, Goldsmith’s Department Store announced that beginning June 21st the Charga-Plate system will be available for customers who want to use their charge account for purchases. Each customer who has an account with the store will be given a metal card with their name and address on it which saves time when charging items. For those who do not want a card, they can continue to fill out a charge form when making purchases. According to Secretary-Treasurer Jack Goldsmith, “other advantages of the system are that it serves as a means of identification; helps in cashing checks, and protects the buyer’s account from fraudulent use by unauthorized use.”
Turning to weather, a 40 mile-an-hour wind struck the city at 7:10 pm on June the 27th. Filling the sky with dust and grime, the strong gusts pushed the temperature from a broiling 92 degrees to a balmy 79 within a few minutes.
In sports, the Memphis Chicks spent most of the month in second place below the Little Rock Travelers after splitting a double-header with the New Orleans Pelicans – the same day the Travelers defeated the Birmingham Barons. On June 27th however, the Chicks defeated the Knoxville Smokies 9 to 7 and 4 to I during a doubleheader in Memphis which put them in the Southern league’s top spot.
A Confederate Memorial Day
Finally, a ceremony was held at Elmwood Cemetery to commemorate Confederate Memorial Day.
Organized by the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association, the event not only celebrated the courage and sacrifice of Confederate soldiers, it also obscured the cruel nature of slavery and the war fought to preserve it.
In his keynote address, Reverend Walter M. White paid homage to the “loyal and faithful sons of the South who gave their all to a cause they believed to be worthy. An army may be defeated on the field of battle, but a cause that is right can never die.”
According to a reporter from the Commercial Appeal, “Dr. White paid a tribute…to the faithful negroes who…helped protect southern homes.”
He then turned to Henry Wingfield, a former slave once owned by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. “We have a representative of that race in this dear old man who sits on this platform today and we are glad to honor him.”
As the ceremonies ended children placed small Confederate battle flags on the graves of the 1,000 rebel soldiers buried in Elmwood. However sincerely organized, this event contributed to the Lost Cause mythology which distorted the true motive for the war and strengthened legal discrimination against African Americans.
That’s the way Memphis was…in June of 1937.
Memphis author and historian Wayne Dowdy is the Manager of the Main Library’s Memphis and Shelby County Room. He also writes for the local monthly publication Best Times and is the author of several books on Memphis history, including A Brief History Of Memphis, Hidden History Of Memphis, and Mayor Crump Don’t Like It.