The Price of Passion: A Review of The Agitator’s Daughter

July 29, 2011 

John Cashin’s death in March has renewed interest in Sheryll Cashin’s 2008 memoir The Agitator’s Daughter. It is the story of her father’s political fortune, his rise and fall and the price of passion as told by a precocious daughter coming of age in Huntsville Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement. She shares how family wealth dissipated with the moderate success of John Cashin’s political commitment. In the early 70s as a student at Fisk University I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Cashin speak. At the time uninterested in his subject, politics, I remember being struck by his energy. He had an almost larger than life presence, confident, boastful and driven. Sheryll Cashin’s story bears out this impression.

John Cashin and brother, Herschel, during their Omega partying days at Fisk made a pledge to continue the work of their great grandfather Herschel V. Cashin a radical Republican legislator in Reconstruction Alabama. The legislator’s political career like most African American office holders ended with Reconstruction and the disenfranchisement of African Americans sweeping the South.  Brother Herschel studied law unable to earn a living in Alabama when the State enacted Jim Crow legislation depriving those studying out of state the right to practice leaving John Cashin alone to fulfill their fraternal pledge.

John Cashin became a dentist joining his father in a successful Huntsville Alabama practice. After military service and a tour in France he would return home to finish grand father Herschel’s work founding the National Democratic Party of Alabama in 1968. The Party became a prominent voice for Black voting rights and an important player in local politics in Black-dominated communities. It began the process of dismantling the segregationist chokehold on Alabama’s political process.

The Party in the name of Black voting rights would enjoy successes and suffer defeats until its demise in 1976 at a time when John Cashin’s reversal of fortune and personal calamities would mount. Sheryll Cashin laments the price her father paid for his commitment.  A bitterness evolves to acceptance enabling the Georgetown law professor to no less carry on a family tradition of service and good works. Her memoir is an inspiring historical account delving into morality and the price of passion.

 

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