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THE HISTORY


The history of the Memphis Press-Scimitar is shorter, though no less convoluted, than that of its main rival, the Commercial Appeal. In 1880 George P.M. Turner (1839-1900), owner-editor of papers in Mississippi and Arkansas, leader of Texas troops under Nathan Bedford Forrest, and district attorney general, began a Sunday morning paper called the Scimitar, but by late 1883 it was issued daily except Sunday. In 1894 a mass lynching in Shelby County prompted Turner's successor, A. B. Pickett, to an editorial crusade against the practice, setting a progressive tone that marked most of the paper's history. In 1904 the Scimitar merged with the News (founded in 1902) and continued as the News-Scimitar for the next two decades.

The Memphis Press, an evening daily, appeared in 1906 as a property of the Scripps-McRae League (later the Scripps-Howard syndicate). In its twenty years, the Press's editors included R. Young, Harper Leech, Ralph Millett, Edward T. Leech, Tom E. Sharp, and G. V. Sanders. In the summer of 1919 Edward Leech served a ten-day jail sentence for contempt of court as a result of an editorial critical of E. H. "Boss" Crump's political machine.

In 1926 the Press and the News-Scimitar merged to form the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Sharp and Sanders were the first editors, but the paper's greatest days began in 1931 with the arrival of Edward J. Meeman, who served as editor until 1962. Although the Press-Scimitar and the Commercial Appeal were both Scripps-Howard properties after 1936, the former was generally more liberal. Both newspapers voiced their differences with Boss Crump, but Meeman's Press-Scimitar pursued a running battle against the machine's dominance of state and local politics that drew the Boss's ire. The 1948 Democratic primary, in which Meeman and the paper supported the successful anti-Crump candidacies of Gordon Browning (for governor) and Estes Kefauver (for senator), is generally judged the greatest blow ever landed against Crump's machine. In that year, the Press-Scimitar also won the prestigious public service award from Sigma Delta Chi, the national professional journalistic fraternity, and columnist Eldon Roark's syndicated "Strolling" column was awarded the National Headliners' Club's praise as the best daily feature-human interest column in the country.

Under the arts-loving Meeman, the Memphis Press-Scimitar became an instigator of the Memphis Shakespeare Festival (1951-66) and, in partnership with Theater Memphis, of the Memphis Acting Competition. The Goodfellows annual Christmas party and the Cynthia Milk Fund, both targeted at poor children, originated with the predecessor papers, but continued under the Press-Scimitar. In the 1930s the Press-Scimitar and the Memphis Cotton Carnival Association created the annual Maid of Cotton pageant to highlight the continuing importance of that crop to the regional economy. Editor Meeman became a recognized leader in the conservation movement and used his position to support environmental and ecological protection.

By the early 1980s Scripps-Howard could no longer afford to maintain two dailies in a single market, even though the two had long shared management and advertising staffs, buildings, and presses. The last issue of the Press-Scimitar appeared on October 31, 1983. Many of its staff moved to the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal, while its morgue file (a significant research resource of clippings, photos, and ephemera) is now housed in the Mississippi Valley Collection of the University of Memphis Library.


Ed Frank, Mississippi Valley Collection, University of Memphis Libraries