north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     Wilbur Joseph Cash, author of The Mind of the South, was born in South Carolina on May 2, 1900, as Joseph Wilbur Cash. (Cash later reversed the order of his given names and primarily used only his initials.) He was the oldest of John William and Nannie Hamrick Cash’s four children. When he was twelve years old, Cash’s family moved to Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where he attended Boiling Springs High School, delivering the commencement address in 1917. Following graduation he worked odd jobs until, in 1918, he succumbed to his father’s wishes and attended Wofford College. After one year there, he transferred to Valparaiso University for a short time. In 1920 he entered Wake Forest College, where he served as associate editor of the student newspaper his senior year. Cash graduated from Wake Forest in 1922 and continued in law school there for one year, then taught school for three years before determining that he would pursue journalism.

     Between 1923 and the summer of 1927, W. J. Cash worked for the Charlotte Observer, Chicago Post, and Charlotte News, successively. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, he left home to bicycle through Europe. Upon returning, he edited Shelby’s semiweekly Cleveland Press. Quitting in 1929 to freelance, Cash penned an article, called “The Mind of the South,” that was brought to the attention of New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Knopf asked Cash to develop a manuscript proposal based on the article. Although he submitted the work in 1930, another breakdown placed Cash in a Charlotte hospital for several months, after which time he was told to discontinue writing.

     In 1932, however, Cash began work on The Mind of the South in the back room of his aunt’s Boiling Springs post office. He returned to the Charlotte News in 1937 as an editorial writer, still working on his manuscript as time allowed. Completed in July 1940 and published in February 1941, The Mind of the South is considered to be a classic work of history and social criticism. The book won the Mayflower Cup that year.

     W. J. Cash married Mary Ross Northrop on December 25, 1940 and soon after left for Mexico City where he planned to write a novel. Once there he became delusional, and on July 1, 1941, he was found dead, hanging by his necktie from the bathroom door of a hotel room. His ashes were returned to Shelby where they were interred at Sunset Cemetery. Author Thomas Dixon is buried nearby.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 339-340—sketch by George B. Tindall
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Joseph L. Morrison, W. J. Cash: Southern Prophet (1967)
Bruce Clayton, W. J. Cash: A Life (1991)
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Wilbur Joseph Cash

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources