3 September 2010

The South in Two Minds: W. J. Cash and Thomas Dixon in Shelby, North Carolina: Southern Literary Tour, Part Two: #11

At West Marion and Martin in Shelby, near Gastonia in North Carolina, there are three historical markers, two of which relate to writers: Thomas Dixon and W. J. Cash, two very different people with strong Shelby connections. W. J. Cash (1900-41) was born in Gaffney, South Carolina, and spent a large about of time writing for various newspapers. He detested the Ku Klux Klan, and wrote about the dangers of nazism and fascism.

After many years of work, he published The Mind of the South - a seminal work still highly regarded today - a few months before his death in 1941.

Cash was found hanged in Mexico a few months after the publication of his book, although the Mexican authorities rushed through his cremation against his family's wishes, and no examination of the body was possible. (A few weeks previously, Cash had been complaining about being followed by German spies.)

Thomas Dixon (1864-1946) was born in Shelby, and is best known for one of his novels, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, which firmly registers Dixon's support for that violent rascist organization, which D. W. Griffiths, very sensitive to Dixon's ideas, filmed as The Birth of a Nation (1915). Dixon was pro-white supremacy, pro-traditional family, and obviously very right wing.
Dixon's grave in Sunset Cemetery, Shelby, clearly shows the importance with which the man was held:

'A native of Cleveland County and most distinguished son of his generation'. There we have it, then.

'He was the author of 28 books dealing with the Reconstruction period, the most popular of which were "The Clansman" and "The Leopard's Spots", from which "The Birth of a Nation" was dramatized.' Yes indeed, there we have it. Er...

An important writer? Well, an important one from a historical point of view, perhaps, along with all the anti-Tom books, and the denial literature, and other works written in praise of the horrors of the Southern past. Mercifully, things move on.

Not too easy to spot because of the years of grime, but impressive nonetheless.

The inscription on W. J. Cash's grave was illegible due to the dirt and dried grass covering it, but with a little footwork and a number of moist towelettes, words started to take a more definite shape:

'Wilbur Joseph Cash
Son of
John W. & Nannie Hamrick Cash
May 2, 1900 - July 1, 1941
A great mind, a sweet nature, a scholar, author and editor. He loved the South with intensity and was to all a friend.

God's finger touched him and he slept. Behind the dim unkown, standeth God within the shadow. Keeping watch above his own'.

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