Q. What would [W.J.] Cash find most surprising about today’s South?
A. The first would be the widespread acceptance of interracial marriage, which in 1941 would have been totally taboo to white Southerners — at least in the social sense, though of course in practical terms, interracial relationships have always been a fact of life in the South.
“The other is immigration
. For a bunch of reasons, the South never knew any significant immigration until the 1980s, when the Mexican migration began. Cash spent much of his newspaper career working for papers in North Carolina, where today nearly 10 percent of the population is Hispanic, and where you can see flyers advertising Mexican bands stuck in the windows of the local Curves franchise. I think that would astonish him.
“And universal air conditioning!
“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.