Lucius E. Burch Jr.


Lucius E. Burch Jr., attorney, conservationist, and civil rights advocate, was born on a large farm outside Nashville on January 25, 1912, the son of Dr. Lucius E. Burch and Sarah Cooper Burch. He was descended from a long line of distinguished people, including the founders of two southern cities (John Donelson of Nashville and Thomas Polk of Charlotte, North Carolina); two early presidents (James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson); and Episcopal bishop and Civil War general Leonidas Polk. His grandfather was secretary of the United States Senate, and his father was dean of Vanderbilt Medical School.

Burch spent his boyhood and youth in Nashville, interrupted only by a period in Alaska. There he supported himself by hunting and killing bald eagles, an activity he later renounced as his greatest sin. The passion for the outdoors that had taken him to Alaska later transformed into a dedication for the protection of the environment, especially wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Burch attended both college and law school at Vanderbilt. After completing law school in 1936, he moved to Memphis to join the firm of Burch, Minor and McKay, then headed by his uncle, Charles Burch. Within a few years, all three senior partners died, and Burch inherited the practice of the firm. He soon brought in Jesse Johnson and John Porter, with whom he enjoyed a long partnership. Together they led the firm for some fifty years, involving it in every area of legal practice.

Burch married Elsie Caldwell in December 1935. They had four daughters, Sarah Polk Burch Gratz, Elsie Caldwell Burch Donald, Edith Montague Burch Caywood, and Lucia Newell Burch Doggrell.

Burch combined a vigorous, extensive outdoor life with a busy, productive professional and public life. He piloted a single-engine plane around the country and into Latin America and the Caribbean in pursuit of hunting, fishing, scuba-diving, hiking, and camping opportunities and survived a number of serious crashes.

A lifelong Democrat, Burch opposed the Crump political machine and championed the Civil Rights movement. He became one of the most active trial lawyers of his time and participated in many well-known trials. He represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a successful attempt to lift an injunction prohibiting a march in Memphis just prior to King's assassination.

Burch was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American Bar Foundation; a founder, charter member, and president of the Memphis Community Relations Council; chairman of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission; president of the Tennessee Conservation League; member of the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee; honorary life member of the Tennessee Academy of Sciences; and life member of the NAACP. Among the awards he received were the Tennessee Conservation League's Carter Patten Award; the Certificate of Merit of the Memphis Urban League; and the “Lawyer's Lawyer” Award of the Memphis and Shelby County Bar Association. He received an honorary doctorate from Rhodes College. He was the author of numerous articles on hunting, fishing, aviation, undersea exploration, civic affairs, politics and gerontology.

Burch possessed a brilliant mind, furnished with the best of Western literature and charged with intellectual boldness and curiosity; a strong body; boundless energy; a seemingly indomitable will; absolute integrity; and a passionate commitment to the natural world, to his ideals and principles, and to his friends and family.

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  • Article Title Lucius E. Burch Jr.
  • Coverage 1912-1996
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018