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George Washington Lee papers

Overview

Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

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George Washington Lee papers, 1923-1968 | Amistad Research Center

By Andrew Salinas

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Collection Overview

Title: George Washington Lee papers, 1923-1968Add to your cart.

Creator: Lee, George W. (George Washington) (1894-1976)

Extent: 2.8 Linear Feet

Date Acquired: 01/01/1968

Languages: English

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The papers of prominent Memphis civic leader, politician, and insurance professional George Washington Lee, more commonly known as Lieutenant Lee, reflect his affiliation with the Republican Party for over five decades.

Correspondence includes letters from several Republican United States Presidents from either before or during their presidency, including Calvin Coolidge (1924), Herbert Hoover (1928), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952), and Richard Nixon (1964). Other correspondents include chairmen of the Republican National Committee, John Hamilton, Thruston B. Morton, and William E. Miller, as well as prominent Republican politicians Robert A. Taft Jr., Jacob Javits, Nelson A. Rockefeller, and George Romney, among others. In several of these letters, Lee and his correspondents write about ways in which the Republican Party could better foster the inclusion of African Americans, as well as the increasing significance of the African American voting bloc in presidential elections. Other notable correspondents include W. C. Handy, a friend of Lee, who questions the veracity of Alan Lomax's biography of Jelly Roll Morton in his letter to Lee. Handy includes an enclosure of passages from Mr. Jelly Roll which Handy claims as "false from head to foot" and another enclosure of a letter Handy received from a man who had heard Handy and his band perform in 1898.

In a transcription of an oral history interview conducted with Lee in 1966 as part of the Memphis State University Oral History Research Office's Political Leaders of Memphis project, he describes his life and career as a politician and writer in great detail. Photographs depict Lee meeting Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon, and Jackie Robinson, among other prominent national figures and Republican politicians. Another photograph includes Lee's daughter, Gilda, shaking hands with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Oval Office.

Lee's published writings date from 1928 and include works printed in Memphis Triangle, Journal of Negro Life, Music Forum and Digest, The Knoxville Journal, and Memphis magazine. Topics of these writings range from life on Beale Street, African American World War I veterans, W. C. Handy, and editorial letters. An excerpt from one of Lee's books was published as "The King of Beale Street" in the first issue of Negro Digest in July 1940. His reminiscences on Martin Luther King Jr., in light of his assassination in Memphis, are presented in the May 1968 issue of The Vision, a publication of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, which Lee edited.

Speeches include Lee's speech seconding the nomination of Robert A. Taft at the 1952 Republican National Convention. Other speeches are before the Shelby County Republican Convention and at various Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World gatherings, the latter in his capacity as Grand Commissioner of Education of the Elks. Particularly by the late 1960s, Lee's speeches concern the perceived disregard of the general African American population for the Republican Party. Also included in the collection is the text of Lee's Lincoln-Douglas Address in 1945, as published in the Congressional Record.

The collection also includes two large scrapbooks, primarily newspaper clippings chronicling Lee's involvement in national and local Republican Party politics and his various activities as a prominent Memphis civic leader. Of interest is a newspaper clipping, "Lt. Lee Credited with Ike's Win in Tennessee," from the November 7, 1956, issue of the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Campaign ephemera reflect Lee's own campaigns for State Committeeman and State Executive Republican Committee, and also depict his work as Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Volunteer Ticket. Related materials include an endorsement supporting the Nixon/Lodge ticket in 1960 signed by Memphis-area ministers of various denominations.

Biographical Note

More commonly known as "Lt. Lee," as he preferred to be known following his service with the United States Army in France during World War I, George Washington Lee was a prominent business leader, proponent of African American equality, and Republican politician in Memphis.

George W. Lee was born in near Indianola, Mississippi, in 1894, the son of sharecroppers. Lee's father died when he was three years old, and he moved with his mother to Memphis in 1910. Lee graduated from Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College. After matriculating from Alcorn, Lee briefly worked for the Santa Fe Railway in Chicago before graduating as a Second Lieutenant from the Officer's Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Lt. Lee served in the 92nd Infantry Division in France, and the unit - one of a few African American units engaged overseas - received commendation for their bravery.

Returning to Memphis after the war, Lee was persuaded by local African American leaders to abandon his plan of becoming a career military officer and instead join in local struggles for African American progress. Lee believed in achieving equality through African American capitalism, and he began work in the insurance profession, first with the Mississippi Life Insurance Company, where by 1920 he was promoted to a vice president of the company. After this company sold its controlling interest elsewhere, Lee worked for the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Lee was a senior vice president at a Memphis office of this firm at his death in 1976.

Lee's interest in politics specifically with the Republican Party dates to at least the 1920, when he attended his first GOP convention as an alternate. In a 1928 letter from President Herbert Hoover, Lee is addressed as Director of the Colored Veterans Bureau of the Republican National Committee. Lee was a delegate to every Republican National Convention from 1940 until 1964, when Republican forces in Tennessee conspired to elect an all-white delegation. Lee supported more progressive Republican candidates for national office, and he gave the seconding nomination speech for Robert A. Taft at the 1952 Republican National Convention. At the time of his death, Lt. Lee was slated to attend the 1976 Republican National Convention as a delegate pledged to support Gerald Ford.

Lee was long affiliated with the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, and he began serving as Grand Commissioner of Education on a national level in 1951. Lee also operated the Lincoln League, a Memphis Republican Party organization founded by his mentor, Robert R. Church Jr. He spearheaded various community drives, served on a commission that erected a Memphis statue and named a park in honor of W. C. Handy, and in 1956 saw a post office building in Memphis named the George W. Lee Station, the first living African American with that distinction.

Lee first found wide acclaim as an author for his book Beale Street: Where the Blues Began in 1934, when this work became the first book by an African American author to be advertized in the Book-of-the-Month-Club News. In 1937, he published a novel, River George, and he later published a collection of stories as Beale Street Sundown in 1942. He also published short works in Negro Digest, The World's Digest, and the Southern Literary Messenger, and routinely wrote newspaper articles and letters to the editor throughout his life.

Lee died on August 1, 1976, in an automobile accident.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Acquisition Source: George Washington Lee

Acquisition Method: Gift

Related Materials: The Amistad Research Center holds the papers of Benjamin Hooks, another prominent Memphis-based African American political leader. The Center houses papers of E. Frederic Morrow and other prominent African American Republicans. George W. Lee has another deposit of his personal papers at the Memphis Public Library & Information Center.

Related Publications: Tucker, David M. Lieutenant Lee of Beale Street. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 1971.

Preferred Citation: George Washington Lee papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

Processing Information: Collected processed in September 2013.


Box and Folder Listing


Browse by Box:

[Box 1],
[Box 2],
[Box 3],
[Box 4],
[All]

Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Correspondence, 1924-1963Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Correspondence, 1964-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Photographs: Honors, civic activities, and awards, 1955-1960Add to your cart.
Item 1: Verso description: "Sends 14 trucks of Baskets to Poor at Christmas time. Lt. Lee heads up this Christmas Charity Program that helps the Needy.", 1955Add to your cart.
Photograph by Hooks Bros.
Item 2: Verso description: "Lt Lee accepting the commission as 'Colonel' on the Governor's Staff in the State of Tennessee."Add to your cart.
Item 3: The Spirit of Beale Street airplane, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Raised money to buy Airplane to 2nd World's War."
Item 4: verso description: "Lee presides at National Citizenship banquet, 1954?", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Fred Harris
Item 5: Lee with group of men outside airplane, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Asst. Post Master General arrives from Washington to speak at dedication of George W. Lee Station."
Item 6: Verso description: "Asst. Post Master General of the United States presents Mr. Lee the keys to the Postal Station named in his honor.", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by E. H. Jaffe
Item 7: Verso description: "Crowd at Dedication of George W. Lee Postal Station.", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Wert S. Hooper
Item 8: Verso description: "Dedication of George W. Lee Homes", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 9: Verso description: "Crowd at dedication of G. W. Lee Homes", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 10: Verso description: "Mayor Tobey dedicates G. W. Lee Homes, 1956?", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 11: Lee seated with crowd, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Celebration of 'George W. Lee Day' in Memphis." Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 12: Members of the Lincoln League, 1960Add to your cart.
Verso description: "Celebration of G. W. Lee Day in Memphis." Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 13: Crowd seated in auditorium, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Celebration of 'George W. Lee Day' in Memphis."
Item 14: Lee smoking cigar, seated with typewriter at desk, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Interview after having written 'Beale Street where the Blues Began,' 'River George,' and 'Beale Street Sundown'." Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 15: Verso description: "Sworn in by Mayor as Member of Port and Harbor Commission.", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Folder 4: Photographs: Republican Party, 1952-1960Add to your cart.
Item 1: Verso description: "Meeting with Guy Smith, State Republican Chairman", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 2: Verso description: "Meeting electing Lt. Lee as delegate to National Republican Convention", 1952Add to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 3: Verso description: "Daughter of Lt. Lee shaking hands with Eisenhower in the White House", undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 4: Lee with Senator Kenneth Keating, undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Maurice Sorrell
Item 5: Verso description: "Lt. Lee welcomes Vice President Nixon to Memphis", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 6: Verso description: "Lt. Lee and Jackie Robinson plan political campaign for Nixon", 1960Add to your cart.
Photograph by Justin Westerfield
Item 7: Lee with supporters of Nixon campaign, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Honored by young Republicans
Item 8: Verso description: "Lt. Lee and Dr. Speight converse with Mrs. [Pat] Nixon", undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Item 9: Verso description: "Lt. Lee and others pose with the late Senator Robert Taft", undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 5: Photographs: Elks, 1956 and undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 1: Verso description: "Lee and Elks officials entertained by sheriff, Los Angeles County (at time of 2d nomination of Eisenhower)", 1956Add to your cart.
Item 2: Verso description: "Lt. Lee presiding at National Oratorical Contest; he heads up an Elks Scholarship Program that has raised three million dollars", undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 3: Verso description: "Lee takes Elks scholarship money to White House", undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 6: Photographs: W. C. Handy, 1960 and undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 1: Photograph of mural, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Makers of Memphis history: From left to right, W. C. Handy, E. H. Crump, and Geo. W. Lee."
Item 2: Lee holding poster published by Handy Brothers Music Co., "W. C. Handy's Birth Certificate of the Blues", undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Lee exhibits the 'Birth Certificate' of the Blues against New Orleans Claim"
Item 3: Lee and others with model of W. C. Handy statue, undatedAdd to your cart.
Verso description: "Lee with Mayor Orgill plans monument to W. C. Handy"
Item 4: Verso description: "Lt. Lee heads dedication of Handy's Monument in which Mahalia Jackson sings", 1960Add to your cart.
Photograph by Ernest C. Withers
Folder 7: Photographs: Unidentified, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 8: Oral history transcription: Parts 1 and 2, 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Oral history transcription: Parts 3 and 4, 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Oral history transcription: Parts 5 and 6, 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Published writings, 1928-1970Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Unpublished writings, 1960-1966Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Speeches, 1952-1964Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Speeches, 1965-1966Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Speeches, 1967-1973Add to your cart.
Folder 16: Speech: Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield on African Americans in the United States Post Office Department, 1956Add to your cart.
Folder 17: Newspaper clippings, 1952-1976Add to your cart.
Folder 18: Collected items: Press releases, 1965-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 19: Collected items: Congressional Record, 1945-1960Add to your cart.
Box 2Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Campaign ephemera, 1952-1962Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Tennessee Republican Party: Miscellaneous, 1960-1966Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Lincoln League, 1962-1963Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Shelby County Republican Executive Committee, 1960-1964Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Elks Department of Education: Publications, 1959-1964Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Elks Department of Education: Publications, 1967-1972Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Elks: Miscellaneous, 1960-1971Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Television news transcription: "Handy Salute", 1960Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Insurance profession: Publications and miscellaneous, 1963-1970Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Collected essay: "Memphis Politics: A Study in Racial Bloc Voting" / by William E. Wright, 1961Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Collected book: Upper South Politics / by Connie Fredriksson, undatedAdd to your cart.
Author's inscription to Lee
Box 3Add to your cart.
Item 1: Scrapbook, 1927-1932Add to your cart.
This scrapbook consists primarily of pages from newspapers and magazines, including The Commercial Appeal, Chicago Defender, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Vision, Memphis Press-Scimitar, Journal of Negro Life, Memphis Triangle, Houston Informer, Memphis World, Mid-South Liberator, and the East Tennessee News. Topics include George W. Lee's political and civic involvement, W. C. Handy and a park named in his honor, African American achievement and daily life in Memphis, and the 1932 Republican National Convention. Also included is a poster advertising a 1930 mass meeting of the Citizens' Civic League, for which Lee served as President.
Box 4Add to your cart.
Item 1: Scrapbook, 1924-1933Add to your cart.
This scrapbook consists mostly of whole newspaper or magazine pages from the Memphis Triangle, Tri-State Tribune, Memphis Press-Scimitar, Chicago Defender, The Pittsburgh Courier, Commercial Appeal, The Colorado Statesman, The Louisville Trader, The Dallas Express, The Vision, Heebie Jeebies, The Daily News, The Messenger, The Inter-state Tattler, The East Tennessee News, and The Washington Eagle. Topics reflected in newspaper articles include Lee's work with the Republican Party, Lee's appearances as a graduation speaker, an article by Lee on Negro Insurance Week, controversy regarding Lee's defense against a claim that the 92nd Infantry Division of the Army lacked courage in battle in World War I, Lee being honored at the 1924 Republican National Convention, the Elks, and the West Tennessee Civic and Political League.
Item 2: Scrapbook, 1941-1957Add to your cart.
This scrapbook consists of newspaper clippings, photographs, and various ephemera. The scrapbook is paginated and includes a handwritten index indicating the scrapbook's organization by the following subjects: Achievements, Beale Street, blues, books, Collins Chapel Hospital, community drives, Elks, general news, Lincoln-Douglas Address, Republican Party, the Roosevelts, and war bonds. Clippings are from Memphis World, Commercial Appeal, Tri-State Defender, Buffalo Evening News, The Pittsburgh Courier, Memphis Press-Scimitar, Atlanta Daily World, Atlanta Life Weekly Report, and The Carolinian. The scrapbook includes an issue of Congressional Record with the text of Lee's 1945 Lincoln-Douglas Address. Also included is a program for the Beale St. Elks Sixth Annual Blues Bowl, a 1943 football game held between Sumner High School of St. Louis and Washington High School of Memphis in honor of W. C. Handy. Also included is copy of a 1945 letter from W. C. Handy to Lee pledging $1000 to a community chest drive. Photographs of a group of Elks at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and Lee with unidentified men are also included.

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[Box 2],
[Box 3],
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