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The Agitator's Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family

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During Reconstruction, Herschel V. Cashin was a radical republican legislator who championed black political enfranchisement throughout the South. His grandson, Dr. John L. Cashin, Jr., inherited that passion for social justice and formed an independent Democratic party to counter George Wallace's Dixiecrats, electing more blacks to office than in any Southern state. His " During Reconstruction, Herschel V. Cashin was a radical republican legislator who championed black political enfranchisement throughout the South. His grandson, Dr. John L. Cashin, Jr., inherited that passion for social justice and formed an independent Democratic party to counter George Wallace's Dixiecrats, electing more blacks to office than in any Southern state. His "uppity" ways attracted many enemies. Twice the private plane Cashin owned and piloted was sabotaged. His dental office and boyhood home were taken by eminent domain. The IRS pursued him, as did the FBI. Ultimately his passions would lead to ruin and leave his daughter, Sheryll, wondering why he would risk so much. In following generations of Cashins through the eras of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights, and post-civil rights political struggles, Sheryll Cashin conveys how she came to embrace being an agitator's daughter with humor, honesty, and love.


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During Reconstruction, Herschel V. Cashin was a radical republican legislator who championed black political enfranchisement throughout the South. His grandson, Dr. John L. Cashin, Jr., inherited that passion for social justice and formed an independent Democratic party to counter George Wallace's Dixiecrats, electing more blacks to office than in any Southern state. His " During Reconstruction, Herschel V. Cashin was a radical republican legislator who championed black political enfranchisement throughout the South. His grandson, Dr. John L. Cashin, Jr., inherited that passion for social justice and formed an independent Democratic party to counter George Wallace's Dixiecrats, electing more blacks to office than in any Southern state. His "uppity" ways attracted many enemies. Twice the private plane Cashin owned and piloted was sabotaged. His dental office and boyhood home were taken by eminent domain. The IRS pursued him, as did the FBI. Ultimately his passions would lead to ruin and leave his daughter, Sheryll, wondering why he would risk so much. In following generations of Cashins through the eras of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights, and post-civil rights political struggles, Sheryll Cashin conveys how she came to embrace being an agitator's daughter with humor, honesty, and love.

48 review for The Agitator's Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Brailey

    An amazing story of the history of one family's contribution to desegration in Huntsville, Alabama. The story starts five generations before the present day and describes how each generation remembered the ones before it and stayed true to the cause of Freedom. Anyone interested in civil rights, geneology, American History and just plain life in the USA will love this book. An amazing story of the history of one family's contribution to desegration in Huntsville, Alabama. The story starts five generations before the present day and describes how each generation remembered the ones before it and stayed true to the cause of Freedom. Anyone interested in civil rights, geneology, American History and just plain life in the USA will love this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rpambrose

    The author grew up across the street from my parents' home in Huntsville, Alabama. This is a tremendously insightful book about her parents and her extended family, as well as the social revolution of which her parents were leaders. This book makes me think -- and cry. The author grew up across the street from my parents' home in Huntsville, Alabama. This is a tremendously insightful book about her parents and her extended family, as well as the social revolution of which her parents were leaders. This book makes me think -- and cry.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian Bess

    The emotional inheritance of an agitator The agitator in this instance is civil rights activist John Cashin, who was a dentist in Huntsville, Alabama in the 1950's through the 1970's and played an essential role in the movement to integrate Huntsville and transform interracial society throughout the state of Alabama in the 1960's and 70's. The daughter, Sheryll, has stated that one of the primary motivators for writing the book was that she wanted to get as much of that heritage recorded directl The emotional inheritance of an agitator The agitator in this instance is civil rights activist John Cashin, who was a dentist in Huntsville, Alabama in the 1950's through the 1970's and played an essential role in the movement to integrate Huntsville and transform interracial society throughout the state of Alabama in the 1960's and 70's. The daughter, Sheryll, has stated that one of the primary motivators for writing the book was that she wanted to get as much of that heritage recorded directly from her father while he was still living before he passed and took it with him. She also wanted to extract the facts of the family history from 'the lore', the oral myths that had been passed down through several generations. The lore was that Sheryll's great-grandfather, Herschel Vivian Cashin, was one of the sons of a benevolent Irish immigrant from Georgia that moved his mixed race children to the north to save them from being sold by his slave holding brother in case something should happen to him. The lore also stated that Herschel became the first black lawyer in the state of Alabama and the architect of Reconstruction. The facts were that the benevolent Irishman, John Cashin, was a very successful slave owner and that the inheritance of his children came from the institution of slavery and that the opportunities were often available because of their mixed race. Many of these children were so light-skinned that they could easily pass as white, live as whites and avail themselves of the opportunities of white citizens. Herschel, however, had slightly darker skin and chose to return to the South as a black man and lift up the more impoverished members of his race. He wasn't the first black lawyer in the state of Alabama, although he was one of the first. He did serve two terms in the Alabama legislature, not at the origin of Reconstruction but rather when it was coming to a close. Herschel instilled in his children the drive to excel, to pursue higher education and to become successful lawyers, doctors, dentists, educators, the highest professions that were available to them at that time. The lore had kernels of truth and served as potent motivation to propel each subsequent generation to pursue excellence and civic duty. Sheryl's father, John Jr. (his father, John Sr. was a dentist in Huntsville) followed in his father's footsteps, was the valedictorian of his class, just as members of each previous generation had been since Grandfather Herschel, and determined to live a life of social activism. He married Joan Carpenter, daughter of an affluent family in New Jersey and informed her that if she wanted to marry him she must dedicate her life, with his, to social activism and join the civil rights struggle. Some of the events of the movement in Huntsville in the 60's are also depicted in the book, 'Beside the Troubled Waters' by fellow civil rights leader Sonnie Hereford, one of the few black doctors in Huntsville during those years. He told about the effort to gain national publicity for what they were doing when his pregnant wife, Martha, along with Sheryll's mother Joan, carrying four-month old Sheryll, and a young black student named Frances Simms, sat at a segregated lunch counter and refused to leave, leading to all of them, including the baby, being taken to jail: 'The three women did not ask for an appeal bond, placing the police in a quandary about what to do with their unique inmates. After considerable deliberation, the police chief announced to the women that he was releasing them “on their own recognizance.” At four months I had gone to jail for the cause, and slept through the entire episode. Mama, baby and diaper bag in hand, walked four long blocks from the city jail to Daddy's dental office on Gallatin Street. He was disappointed to see her. Looking up from a patient's mouth, he said, “What are you doing here? You're supposed to be in jail.” She makes the same assessment of the success of the non-violent movement in Huntsville that Hereford does. Huntsville in the early 60's was currying favor and funding from the federal government through NASA's space program and the Von Braun team of scientists working at Redstone Arsenal. Unlike Birmingham and other southern cities, the municipal leaders and the police department chose not to pursue a violent course of action. No dogs and fire hoses were used They watched from the sidelines and made arrests when the laws were broken. John Cashin and his colleagues continued to exert pressure on the mayor to form a biracial committee to work on the transition of integration. Cashin did not stop there. The Democratic Party at that time was still running on a platform of white supremacy. After the Voting Rights Act passed he stepped up his efforts to form an alternative, the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA), so that blacks would not be shut out of the voting process and could elect black delegates to the National Democratic Convention and enable more blacks to be elected to public office. It was a monumental task—overturning a century of white supremacy that was built into the party platform—but it gradually nudged the Democratic Party into a more inclusive approach. Cashin was relentless. He went out of his way to be provocative and he was fearless. He and his colleagues, black and white, would attend White Citizens Council meetings and cheer the most vile supremacist statements, throwing the racists off their guard. He recognized a Klansman in the meeting, went up to shake his hand and say, “Hi, how are you doing?” Sheryll tells about the 'Drek Set', the integrated mix of whites and blacks, hippies and revolutionaries that would gather at the Cashins' home for parties and planning sessions. Two of the white 'Drek Setters', Don and Myrna Copeland, were close friends of the Cashins and would invest all of their savings into the movement, just as the Cashins did. They also had fun in their challenges of the segregationist status quo. One of the most amusing incidents occurred when John wanted to integrate the Grand Ol' Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. They arranged to have someone purchase four front row tickets. John owned a Rolls Royce so they drove up to Nashville, pulled up in front of the Ryman and Don got out in a chauffeur's outfit, Myrna got out in her maid's outfit and they opened the doors for John and Joan to step out, John in white jacket, tie and tails, Joan in an elegant evening dress. John asked at the door if it would be all right if his driver and maid accompanied them. The stunned Opry admission personnel allowed them to come through. Sheryll grew up with enormous admiration for her parents and realized at an early age that her family was unlike others. As a child, she would ride with her parents all over the black belt of Alabama as her father, running for governor against George Wallace in 1970 on the NDPA ticket, campaigned and gave the same stump speech wherever they went. She grew angry with him as she realized that she would have to scramble for money for college because her father had depleted his savings on the NDPA or giving to another activist with a cause. As he acquired a higher profile on the public stage and pursued his efforts with even more dedication, he lost most of the money he had gained. The City of Huntsville claimed his dental office as 'eminent domain' and built a parking lot there so John decided at that point to give up his dentistry career. The FBI harassed him. The IRS claimed he owed an enormous amount in back taxes, a circumstance that Cashin had brought upon himself when he overstated his income when obtaining financing to help a group of Black Muslims purchase a farm in Greene County, Alabama. Joan was forced to go to back to work as a social worker and the family income dropped to around $17,000 a year. Sheryll states that she received an emotional inheritance that became more valuable than a financial one would ever be. She inherited the drive to excel and also took from both sides of the family the inherent obligation to give back to the community and help those less fortunate than her. She concludes her book at on a Democratic primary day in March 1980. At the age of 18, she was running as a delegate from Alabama and pledging her support for Jimmy Carter. She had driven herself to the polls. She pulled the lever beside Carter's name, 'not realizing how much my parents had fought for this simple privilege. Then I scanned the list of candidates for delegate and found my name in small black letters. As I pulled the lever I laughed excitedly. I had voted for the first time, and I had voted for myself.' The agitator's daughter had internalized the legacy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Apollo Rock It!

    I'm not sure why it is that it takes me so long to finish certain books. It makes me feel guilty, honestly. It almost seems like a disservice to the author and the material to pay it scant attention over several months. I worry that it softens the impact of the book. Regardless, you should ignore how long it took me to complete this one because the truth is that I really enjoyed it. The book provides an intimate portrait of the history of the Cashins, a prominent African-American family in North I'm not sure why it is that it takes me so long to finish certain books. It makes me feel guilty, honestly. It almost seems like a disservice to the author and the material to pay it scant attention over several months. I worry that it softens the impact of the book. Regardless, you should ignore how long it took me to complete this one because the truth is that I really enjoyed it. The book provides an intimate portrait of the history of the Cashins, a prominent African-American family in North Alabama, from the days of slavery all the way through the Civil Rights movement. The most compelling element of the story was the author's description of her family dynamic growing up as the daughter of two strong-willed pillars of the Civil Rights movement. Like many families, there was turmoil. Unlike most, however, theirs was fundamentally inseparable from the tidal swells of the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South. Equally as interesting was the (albeit slightly more academic) exploration of the author's great-grandfather's role in trying to integrate Alabama during Reconstruction. Reading about the progress that was made after the Civil War — then subsequently lost when Alabama rewrote its constitution to explicitly oppress people of color — was a powerful reminder of how the decisions made over 100 years ago by a government of white supremacists are still impacting the people of Alabama today. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in the Civil Rights movement, Alabama history, or any curiosity about the lives of such an impactful family. Just do yourself a favor and read it more quickly than I did.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christine Sears

    Interesting to read about Huntsville and Alabama during the Civil Rights era.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Merrie

    Really enjoyed this dive into Southern history from a personal perspective

  7. 4 out of 5

    Taneya

    Still reading, but so far, an excellent story! I am doing research on part of her family tree, so her voice provides historical context.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ksab

  9. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paul Scully

  12. 5 out of 5

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  13. 4 out of 5

    William

  14. 4 out of 5

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  15. 4 out of 5

    Jaymie

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bush

  18. 4 out of 5

    PJ Lutz

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Wilkins

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lorena

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

  22. 5 out of 5

    Judy Johnson

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ramsey Debra

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael Guillebeau

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Pellegrin

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  28. 5 out of 5

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  29. 4 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

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    Willette Hill

  32. 4 out of 5

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  33. 5 out of 5

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  35. 5 out of 5

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  36. 4 out of 5

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  37. 5 out of 5

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  38. 5 out of 5

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  42. 4 out of 5

    Michael Strode

  43. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Brake

  44. 5 out of 5

    Continualknowledge

  45. 4 out of 5

    Fabiola

  46. 5 out of 5

    Moni NoL

  47. 5 out of 5

    Khelani

  48. 4 out of 5

    S C

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