Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Beverly G. Bond

Committee Member

Charles W. Crawford

Committee Member

Potter Sarah


This dissertation examines the life and career of Robert Church Jr. Church was the son of the first black millionaire in Memphis, Tennessee and a member of the southern black elite. As a child he inherited a life of privilege and could have easily rested on the fortune his father accumulated. Instead, Church decided to embark on a career as a politician and activist. At the height of his career he would become the most recognizable black figure in the Republican Party."The Gentleman fromMemphis" serves as a lens into the political activity of African Americans during the first half of the twentieth century. It focuses on the strategies that Church used to organize and empower black people through the vote. Church believed that voting served as the most pragmatic approach for African Americans to obtain full citizenship in this country. Through the organization he founded, the LincolnLeague of America, Church demonstrated the political agency of African Americans on a national level. His political philosophy moves our understanding of black politics beyond form political victories. Instead this dissertation argues that Church used the arena of politics to interject the plight of the black community into the national political discourse. By enfranchising thousands of black southerners and developing a substantial voting constituency, black voters could have their voices heard among the nation's most prominent policy-makers. Specifically, this dissertation focuses on the incremental victories achieved by black voters, and argues that the activism of Church and his colleagues served as the catalyst for the traditional civil rights movement.I used Church's correspondences, newspapers, government records, and institutional records to construct a political biography that moves Church's significance beyond Memphis and argues that he should be remembered as one of the most influential black leaders of his era. His connection with prominent black and white leaders made him an asset to the Republican Party, as well as the leading black organizations. His advice was coveted by Presidents of the United States, the leaders of the NAACP, politicians, and scholars. During the first half of the twentieth century Church played a role in nearly every major black movement. This dissertation places Church into the historical narrative of black leadership during the pre-civil rights era and provides a more intimate understanding of black political strategies during the era.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.