In March of 1956, Life magazine published a picture of a fist-fight between two Knoxville City Councilmen, Cas Walker and Jimmy Cooper, during a council meeting. I was 13 at the time, and I remember it well because it was the first time I had seen our part of the country make the national news. Cas Walker (1902-1998) called himself a “living legend” in Knoxville, and he was right. He was a leading businessman with a chain of grocery stores in and around Knoxville, and served both on the City Council and a term as Mayor. From the 1960s until the 1980s, Cas Walker’s Home and Farm Hour on Channel 10 gave a wide variety of country music performers a venue which led some to say it was an inspiration for the Gong Show, but, clearly helped bring others, notably Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins, to the national spot-light. He famously stopped letting the Everly Brothers perform on his show because he felt like they were deserting country for rock n roll. In the early sixties, I joined a picket line at one of his grocery stores protesting the fact that he charged higher prices at his stores in African-American neighborhoods. From 1971 until 1984, when libel suits shut it down, he published The Watchdog, an incendiary right-wing publication on local politics. Cas Walker was a quintessential Southern demagogue who called himself “the old coon-hunter” and railed against “the silk-stocking crowd,” in favor of “the little man.” This is an unusual book for a university press. It follows Cas Walker’s life by pasting together short oral history and press snippets from twenty commentators and various publications, including Walker’s own autobiography. The result is refreshingly frank grass-roots perspectives without a real scholarly framework to provide dates and historical context. Joshua S. Hodge, the editor, earned a doctorate in history from the University of Tennessee before his death in 2019.
Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019. 202 pages with an index, Bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback.