A native of Ragland, he graduated from the University of Alabama in 1917. After service in World War I, he took up journalism and learned his craft at several newspapers, including the Louisville Courier in Kentucky. Later, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a masters in English.
While at Wisconsin, Cason observed a pioneering program to educate journalists. Later, while teaching at the University of Minnesota, he began to develop his own ideas for making journalism a respected discipline within the traditional liberal arts.
In 1928, the University of Alabama hired Cason to organize its first journalism department. The 30-year-old professor enjoyed freedom to design courses that would incorporate not only principles of writing and editing but also education in contemporary events and thought.
Although superbly educated himself, Cason had faith in common people’s ability to govern themselves. He saw universities not as ivy-walled bastions for privilege, but rather as great schools for 20th century democracy. A free and vigorous press would guide the public’s deliberations.
Over the next seven years, Cason published his ideas in scholarly journals, earning a reputation as a thoughtful academic. But he also continued to write feverishly for newspapers and popular magazines.
Along with his colleague Hudson Strode in the English Department, Cason became one of the best-known faculty members at the Capstone.
Meanwhile, journalism at Alabama flourished under Cason’s tutelage. He brought current events into the classroom to pique students’ curiosity about their world. His textbook was Time magazine. His emphasis was on understanding and interpreting the news, rather than simply teaching the mechanics of news-gathering.
In 1935, student editors dedicated their yearbook to Cason for his teaching and his work with campus organizations.
That same spring, Cason prepared to publish a book about his native region. His editor, W.T. Couch at the University of North Carolina Press, saw the volume as a major contribution to Southern letters. Cason would join a small but influential group of Southern intellectuals who argued for progressive change in their region. Cason labeled this movement “a quiet revolution.”
Just days before his book appeared, Cason took his life. His death shocked the university community, as well as Casonís many friends outside Tuscaloosa.
His book, titled 90 Degrees in the Shade, received adulation across the country. Favorable reviews poured in from major newspapers and magazines. Many noted his profound insights into the Southern mind. The tragedy of his death merely added to the region’s mystique.
Cason’s memory, however, was best preserved by his students. Many of them achieved prominence as editors, broadcasters and public figures.
In 1983, the University of Alabama Press republished Cason’s book. In the foreword, Prof. Wayne Flynt of Auburn described the work as one of the finest books ever produced by an Alabamian. – Bailey Thomson