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Wilbur J. Cash Collection

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Wilbur Joseph Cash (1900-1941) is best known for his book The Mind of the South, a personal and passionate analysis of the history and culture of the American South in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A native Southerner, Cash was born to working-class Baptist parents in Gaffney, South Carolina. Growing up in small towns in North and South Carolina, Cash experienced first hand the folk culture and social conventions of the early 20th century South, and as a child he accepted its values unquestioningly. But as a student at Wake Forest College, Cash was profoundly influenced by the liberal-minded (by Southern and Baptist standards) President William Louis Poteat and other faculty members. Cash began to look with critical detachment at the culture in which he had been raised.

After graduating from Wake Forest, Cash tried with varying degrees of success to make a living as a journalist and freelance writer. He eventually contributed articles to H.L. Mencken's American Mercury. One of these articles was entitled "The Mind of the South", and it attracted the attention of publisher Blanche Knopf, who gave Cash a contract to expand the essay to book length for publication.

Cash struggled over the manuscript of The Mind of the South for the next decade, supporting himself during the Depression years of the 1930's by writing editorials for the Charlotte News (N.C.) and other publications. When the 400+ page Mind of the South was finally published in 1941, it received enthusiastic reviews. Unfortunately, Cash's physical and mental health was deteriorating. He received a Guggenheim fellowship and traveled with his wife to Mexico to work on a novel. But while they were there, Cash became increasingly anxious and delusional, and finally hanged himself in his hotel room.

The Mind of the South proved to be a profound influence on the post-World War II generation of Southern historians. Painting a portrait of Southern culture with broad strokes, Cash extolled some of the traditional values of his upbringing, but devoted most of his book to a stinging criticism of the South's bigotry, violence, and anti-intellectualism. Cultural historians still argue over the issues raised by The Mind of the South.

The Wilbur J. Cash Collection at Wake Forest University consists of some of Cash's writings, including Mind of the South in typescript, articles, review clippings, business and personal correspondence of W.J. Cash and his wife Mary, photographs, and ephemera. Some of the items are here reproduced in digital format, and a complete index of the collection is available on our Manuscript Finding Aids page.