Old Gold and Black

October 13, 1922


Site Editor's Note: Cash worked first on the editorial staff of the Old Gold and Black, in the spring of 1921, his junior year at Wake Forest. He learned under the respected tutelage of Carl Weathers who had taken the little student pamphlet and turned it into a "real" student newspaper during his three year stint as editor. Though still only four pages published weekly, not much more could be supported by a student body of merely 500 on a campus of nine buildings in a country hamlet a few miles from Raleigh, N.C.

In the fall of 1921, Cash became managing editor working under editor Edwin Holman. Judging by the style, Cash wrote editorials in this capacity only sporadically, sometimes on national and international affairs, but mainly parochial matters important only to the college, such as favoring the college's abandoning compulsory membership to the Euzelian and Philomathesian debating societies because of diluted interest among mandatory participants, and the favoring of using land already owned by the college for an athletic field rather than purchasing new land. Cash then became chief editor during his one year in law school, 1922-'23. In this capacity, he wrote most of the editorials as had his predecessor, Holman, the year before.

Cash's style was that of a scholarly and articulate student, yet with something a little extra, usually a rhythm, a bounce, an insight to his writing which made it distinctive--plainly setting it apart from the conservative tending, though considered progressive in his day, Holman whose prose was erudite but often stilted and humorless--dry. Holman had preached more discipline in school, following opinion "which harmonizes in the great consonance of consecrated worship by the seekers of Truth and Peace that can come only from the living God", though with "spirit" for "[i]t is true that formality carried to extreme often obliterates the true spirituality of the worship"--and so he championed the progressive idea of having colorful, uniform robes for the Baptist choir. He also suggested that the minister, too, should adorn some uniform attire--but not a robe, for "all Protestants...look upon the robe on the minister as symbolic of Catholicism..." In endorsing the psycholgical power of suggestion through use of symbols in the church, Mr. Holman opined, "True it is, this power is characteristic of primitive man, but like the instinct of self preservation the power of suggestion has descended through the ages and in the nineteenth century we find that man's character and thought and sentiment are still shaped by the environments in which he dwells." That he said October 28, 1921, twenty-two years, ten months into the nineteenth century. Wait. Let me check that again... Right, 19=nineteenth. 21.83 - 0 = 22.83. Got to be right.

Mr. Holman apparently (though he claimed to Joseph Morrison in 1965 that it was Cash--yet careful style analysis betrays the contrary) also championed the notion that African-Americans were "entitled to justice…in the courts and suffrage", being tax-paying Americans--as long as it did not include that "bitter and aggressive" sort of quest championed by W.E.B. DuBois, so that, according to the writer, before the right to vote may be given, "the black man must first assure us that he is capable of voting, and second, that he does not intend for political equality to pave the way for social equality".

The appearance of this editorial in February, 1922 below Cash's name as "managing editor" to Holman's "editor" must have angered Cash. While it was the product of the so-called "benign" and "paternalistic" sort of racist attitude as opposed to venality, Cash nevertheless rebelled against both with equal vigor. Apparently being shaped well by the "nineteeth century ... character and thought and sentiment" of the "environments" in which he then dwelled, the writer had written condescendingly that "the South needs the Negro" because of "his" use to "agriculture, the principle industry", but then asks "shall we use him as an oxe, and in so doing, deny him political and social equality, and leave to him only the civil right which he now has? Such is against the American principle of democracy and freedom, and if we look at the matter casually, we are inclined to sympathize with the Yankee in the belief that the Negro does not receive his just deserts in the South. But considering the matter from another standpoint, we of the South, who know the Negro best, realize that the black race as a whole are not capable of enjoying political equality with the Whites. The question of social equality between the races is not discussed in the South because of its absurdity." [Emphasis added.]

Indeed, it may have been this very statement which Cash fixed upon in his sardonic mocking in The Mind of the South, regarding the notion that "we know him best, suh", viz:

"The South's perpetual need to justify its career, and the will to shut away more effectually the vision of its mounting hate and brutality toward the black man, entered into the equation also and bore these people yet further into the cult of the Great Southern Heart. The Old South must be made not only the happy country but the happy country especially for the Negro. The lash? A lie, sir; it had never existed. The only bonds were those of tender understanding, trust, and loyalty. And to prove it, here about us in this very hour of new freedom and bitter strife are hundreds of worn-out Uncle Toms and black mammies still clinging stubbornly to the old masters who can no longer feed them, ten thousand Jim Crows still kicking their heels and whooping for the smile of a white man. Such is the Negro, sir, when he is not corrupted by meddling fools. Hate him? My good friend, we love him dearly--and we alone, for we alone know him." (The Mind of the South, Book II, Chap. 1, section 7, pp. 127-128 of 1941 ed.)

Now, ahhh, getting back to your question, 'fessor, suh, I do believe in a searchin' my memory heya, and we do have these heya riots a goin' on after all down heya these days, just between you and me, all of which makes me powerfully afraid for my skin, and so I do recollec' now that I do think about it at some degree of great and masterfully deliberated length, and considerin' most thoroughly heya my principle of freedom and democracy most thoroughly ingrained as my principle principle, yes I do believe and do so declare, suh, that that very same editorial about which you make inquiry, that of February 3, 19 and 22 in the Year of Our Lord in this the Nineteenth Century, it there being--that editorial must have--it--it must have--I do believe--was written by none other than...

Not to pick on this writer, presumably Mr. Holman, then a 22-year old college student in the small town South who may or may not have later changed his extremely naïve attitude, as that attitude was nearly pervasive in the "best sort" of white people far elder to 22 in the South in Cash's time. It is large part and parcel of why it took 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and the assassination of two Presidents in the interim to get a broad-sweeping Civil Rights bill which insured by law the admission of blacks to all public facilities and thus finally opened the courthouse doors to an integrated society at large. Cash saw this sort of understanding, educated paternalism--which persisted at will well into the seventies and eighties--always coupled as it was with that inevitable, "considering the matter from another standpoint, we of the South"-sort of attitude, as just as invidious as and even encouraging the sort of low level conduct which directly lynched and roasted. Dodging…

So Cash wrote even as a young man his own stuff in his own style--usually unmistakably such and we shall include some of the more non-parochial pieces here and maybe a couple of the more interesting parochial ones as time passes.

This editorial below appeared just after the beginning of his year as editor in fall, 1922 and it is the first Cash wrote which seeks to render some of the antecedent causes of the historical dearth of serious thought evinced by Southerners, and hence the dearth of true culture in the South. The article begins as apropos as fate could have it, with the name of would-be Cash mentor, the man who would two years later with drama critic George Jean Nathan found The American Mercury out of their previous joint publishing venture, The Smart Set, and who would in 1929 introduce Cash's writing to the world at large and to the Knopfs who published it, thus indirectly affording the opportunity to write the book version of The Mind of the South--Baltimore Sun writer, H. L. Mencken. Cash does not see matters at this early stage of his writing career, now a first year law student, with quite the "smartness" of the 42-year old Mencken who had recently referred to the South as the "Sahara of the Bozart"--prompting the discussion and "cussing" to which Cash refers. Yet, Cash flatly agrees that "it is a desert--a barren waste, so far as the development of culture and the nurture of the beaux arts are concerned". Thus begins in print the analysis which would ultimately lend Cash's theories as a starting point in any serious colloquy on the South--its problems, its inherent strengths and traits, and its origins--for generations to come, indeed to the present day.

Here, he sees the root of problems beginning in the colleges and universities of the South which he said encouraged too much the material world of profits such that the "mental and spiritual" are left wanting, with the consequence that college educations are cast aside like yesterday's newspaper after the perusal--on into life then to forget it and earn and earn and earn or teach the children precisely what they have learned in the while--nothing. And so it went. Doth it still go?

Well--Into it us et and spirit us out.

And speaking of spirits, we cannot help in passing to note--and those of the Disputatious Booby who will not credit this need not pay attention--that 'twas in the summer of the year 1998 that we of the herein laid forth our note as introduction to Cash's 1933 piece on Duke University, "Buck Duke's University". And in that introductory note, we poured it on about how "Babbitt" might not be recognized by the young of heart and mind being so far removed in time from the publication of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt--that being in the year in which Cash wrote the below piece, 1922, but 11 years before the piece of our then-present attention, that 65 years before the then-present--and so reminded that Babbitt did not refer to our then Secretary of Interior or "for truly old-timers, to the pouring of Babbitt metal to make engine bearings for Model A Fords". Now--this is where it is mildly interesting to those interested in such things. Until the merry month of May, 2001, we had never read the piece below. Hadn't even seen it as but a babe such that it might reside in the subconscious mind--as any Freudian would no doubt contest and contend. And for those who would surely contemn that it was simply picked up subliminally, but forgotten by the conscious mind, from a read of its excerpt on page 37 of W. J. Cash: A Life by Bruce Clayton, during a summer read 'long about 1991, so, so it could be, repeated then parrot-like in 1998--but, you cynic, it could not have been. Hold your briefs. For in fact, until 1998, we had never heard of Babbitt metal as in the pouring of engine bearings for old Fords--only came to this knowledge by happenstance in visiting a friend of ours that summer in Montana who had owned a Model A for many, many years and who, threatening for years to dispose of the thing, told us that the reason he had not mantled its decade-long dismantled engine--originally so encouraged to undertake such a loathsome and burdensome task in part by our "zen and the art of…" urging as a definite way to dispel all demonic notions of mysticism surrounding the esoterica of Rouge mechanical assemblage--was simply that he could not find anyone skilled in the long moribund craft styled "pouring Babbitt". Lighting up with the mordant notion of Babbitt being poured on the product of Babbittry, we, intrigued by this use of the word in this new context and being quite familiar with more modern contraptions sufficient to know that one does not usually "pour" an engine bearing except at the factory of the ground-round alloyed on the half-shell to-go-or-stop-show's origin, inquired as to its meaning and had good laughs at length on the subject for days after. And now we find, nearly three years after that--that having preceded this by three turns of the calendar, while that having preceded that by 65 turns, and finally this by this by 79--and our reminder on another meaning of "Babbitt", that dear old Cash at the age of 22 wrote…well, read it for yourself below. But there it is. Ghost-writing… (See Alex Haley) Who says writing, reading, 'rithmetic no fun?


H. L. Mencken's phrase regarding the literary calibre of the South has given rise to quite a bit of discussion and, incidentally, "cussing." We don't admire the kind of smartness which Mencken and others of his ilk aspire to, but it must be admitted that there is a deal of truth in this charge. A North Carolina journalist has compiled figures which show a truly lamentable lack of interest in any form of reading whatsoever, and the University News Letter declares that the circulation of daily newspapers is only one to every 13.5 inhabitants. In light of such facts Mencken cannot be blamed for referring to the part of the country below the Mason-Dixon line as a desert. It is a desert--a barren waste, so far as the development of culture and nurture of the beaux arts are concerned, and North Carolina comes near being the dreariest spot in the whole blank stretch. In all the long years of its history the State hasn't produced a half dozen writers who might, by any sort of standard, be called worthwhile. Worse--it hasn't even raised up readers for books that others have written. And this lack of culture is even more blatantly evident in other fields. Truly, it speaks ill for the tastes of the people of the Capital City--which by all rights is supposed to be the cultural center of the State--when it is known that those who brought grand opera performers and singers there last year lost so much money on the venture that they are unwilling to undertake it again.

For all this there must be some reason--some prime cause. And provincialism, in our opinion, is that cause. By that we mean a lack of broad outlook--a failure to recognize the good of anything which cannot be reduced to terms of stark utility--the utilitarian philosophy of money-grubbing and crass materialism. A part of this is a heritage from our pioneer ancestors. There was a time when it was necessary for each and every person to bend his whole energy to the test of wresting the necessities of life from an undeveloped wilderness. When this is remembered, it is easier to understand why "making a living" is such a bugbear to North Carolinians. However, we have long outgrown this--we now have time for other things, but we can't seem to get away from habits of thought and action which have been ingrained in our very fibre. We boast of our cotton mills, our furniture factories, and our fertile acres, and peacefully ignore our amazing ignorance. Not that we shouldn't be proud of our material prosperity--we should--but as a means and not an end in itself. Somewhere someone says that material and spiritual things are not opposed, but complementary. North Carolina is so engrossed in exalting the material, however, that, so far, she has left the mental and spiritual out of account.

And the thing that makes for discouragement is the fact that this narrowness about what is reflected in the colleges of the State--not, perhaps, in the principle on which these institutions were founded, nor in their faculties, but in the men on the campus and those who yearly go out into the life of the State. The trouble is not with the colleges, but with the college men themselves. One motive, and only one, seems to actuate them in coming to the schools--a chance of monetary gain which the acquiring of a degree will give them. The least conception of the fact that these four years are intended merely to give them a base from which they may grow and expand seems to be lacking. They skim over the surface of a little Latin and a bit of the mechanics of English and go out to palm themselves off as educated men. Because they have "been to college" the people of the State look at them as leaders, and because they know nothing, the whole people end up by knowing nothing. In college "they won't read and can't write"--the last because of the first. To tell the truth, they do read--Elinor Glyn, the Fawcett publications, and other such salacious literature. And some of them occasionally risk a shot at the American and Cosmopolitan, but such highbrow material soon fags their delicate brain cells and they return to their old favorites. Ninety-nine out of one hundred never heard of even the most distinguished of modern writers and books, "Babbitt" calls up memories of the crankshaft bearings on paw's old Ford, "If Winter Comes" is some kind of a joke about the coal shortage, and Carl Sandberg is plain Greek.

Their knowledge of the classics is even less. They scrape up a bowing acquaintance with William Shakespeare long enough to pass off an English course and thereafter recall Hamlet only as the home of the railroad yards of the Seaboard Air Line and register blank at the mention of Iago or Caliban. From the first few lines of Browning they gather that no normal person is supposed to know what it's all about. Tennyson makes them yawn and they wonder how the old professor could ever be so simple as to croon over Milton or Wordsworth. Most of them have read Silas Marner, David Copperfield, and Ivanhoe under compulsion. They remember that Mill, Rousseau, Balzac, Dumas, Thackeray, and countless others wrote something, but what it was they haven't the least idea. Malthus and Adam Smith might just as well have written in Sanscrit so far as their chances of being read are concerned. As for history--a childish doggerel enables the majority to retain the startling truth that Columbus discovered the United States--or was it America?--in 1492. A few have a hazy notion that once upon a time somebody settled on Roanoke Island, but whether it was in the fifth century B. C. or in the twentieth A. D. they really couldn't say. The library is regarded as an unpleasant place where one has to go to get a parallel reading in a book by a simpleton named Bryce or someone else equally as silly. And because it is so regarded, dozens graduate from college each year without the least conception of what constitutes good diction or even common grammar and the writing of English.

Out of college--they go to teach school. That is, they put in several years in a conscientious effort to get rid of what little they did acquire in college in cramming the heads of innocent youth with such smatterings as happen to turn up in their memories. Another link is added to the chain. The newer generation is accustomed beforehand to being satisfied with the mere appearance of education. What with early teaching from their parents that nothing should be bothered with which doesn't help them "make a livin' " and the lack of teaching in the schools there is little chance that they will ever make much progress in the direction of genuine culture. So the vicious cycle is complete.

And so it will go on repeating itself year after year until we abandon our utilitarian ideas in regard to education and decide that we want a genuine culture rather than a thin veneer. Our colleges must be restricted to those who are willing and fit to make use of its opportunities to acquire the fundamentals of a true education. Teachers who are capable and who know something must be supplied the lower schools in order that men may be prepared properly for college. Finally, we must educate the people away from over-stressing the material side of things, and of the three, this is the most difficult task.

Editor's Note: For a follow-up editorial in response to reader mail protesting this diatribe, read "What the Freshman Reads", October 20, 1922.

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