The making of ‘The Mind of the South’
October 21, 2010 by Lew Powell
“At Wake Forest [W. J. Cash] became… a fan of H. L. Mencken, the acerbic Baltimore journalist who’d derided the South as ‘the Sahara of the Bozart’…. He wanted to write for Mencken’s magazine, American Mercury. In 1929 [it] published his Menckenesque dismantling of U.S. Sen. Furnifold Simmons…. ‘the stateliest Neanderthaler who ever cooled his heels on a Capitol Hill desk’….
“Other articles in the Mercury would follow, including an indignant portrayal of Charlotte as a citadel of bigotry and Babbitry, besotted by Presbyterianism and in love with Duke Power Co., a city where life for many consisted of ‘a dreary ritual of the office, golf and the church’ that is ‘unbearably dull even for Presbyterians.’
“Cash’s 1929 article ‘The Mind of the South’ attracted the interest of the Knopf publishing house. Cash told Blanche Knopf of his plans to expand it into a book [not published until 1941] with the thesis that ‘the Southern mind represents a very definite culture, or attitude towards life, a heritage, from the Old South, but greatly modified and extended by conscious and unconscious efforts over the last hundred years to protect itself from the encroachments of three hostile factors: the Yankee Mind, the Modern Mind, and the Negro.’
“The salient characteristic of the Southern mind, Cash argued, ‘is a magnificent incapacity for the real, a Brobdingnagian talent for the fantastic’ — a mind, in short, that is wholly unadjusted to the demands of the modern world.”
— From remarks Sunday by Ed Williams, retired editor of the editorial pages of the Charlotte Observer, at the induction of W. J. Cash into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame
Also inducted: Walter Hines Page, Allan Gurganus, Robert Morgan and Samm-Art Williams.