For many years, Lloyd T. Binford served as president of the Columbia Mutual Life Insurance Company, and his beautiful company headquarters — perhaps better known today as the Lincoln-America Tower — still stands like a sentinel over Court Square.
But most Memphians remember him (and not too fondly, either) for his role as the head of the city’s censor board. He was ridiculed for his irrational hatred of Charlie Chaplin (whom he described as “a London guttersnipe”), Ingrid Bergman (for having an affair with the director of one of her films), and other actors he despised, with the result being that their movies were actually banned from theaters in Memphis.
Because Binford had been robbed while working as a railway clerk as a young man, he also banned any movies that featured train robberies, which eliminated quite a few Westerns of the day.
But it was his curious notion of the “proper” relationship between whites and blacks that cemented his reputation. Binford simply wouldn’t allow any movies that showed blacks and whites as equals. Even movies that showed schoolchildren of different races sitting together in the same class were either banned or those scenes were literally snipped out. Scenes in musicals showing performances with black entertainers like Pearl Bailey or Lena Horne were also cut out of movies shown here.
Memphians had no idea, sometimes, that the movies they were watching had been “Binfordized” — made shorter with key scenes eliminated that somehow offended him.
But Binford had his fans, and he always claimed that many families even named their children after him. He was also known for his charitable contributions and other civic involvement.
On a recent visit to Elmwood Cemetery, I came upon his grave by accident, and noticed that it memorialized his civic endeavors, so thought I’d share it with you here.