JF Ptak Science Books Post 1181
This great relic of Americana–the report card of Johnny Cash from Dyess High School in 1949 –is the stuff of deep emotion. It means that John R. Cash walked this (“Pupil’s Individual Subject Report Card”) English report card home to his parents for review, the 17-year-old wondering about how they might react to his not-great grades in English and “effort”. Or perhaps he wasn’t worried at all, perhaps he didn’t care. He missed very few classes, and was never late. He received straight A’s in conduct from his teacher, John C. Gramble.
So, the young Cash, who had grown up lyrical, with music and words swimming in his head, was unmoved by “English” (which was probably more like “composition” than what we think of it today) and was not interested in trying to overcome his disinterest, overly. Be that as it may, even though he was a D student, he was respectful of the class and teacher and classmates, always getting A’s in conduct.
Mr Cash signed the report card each time, and I suspect that he knew exactly what was going on with J.R. in spite of the grades.
Only six years later, in 1955, Johnny Cash had his first national hit in “Cry Cry Cry”.
And so where was Dyess High School?
As it turns out, Johnny Cash lived in a place in his early youth that owed its life to deep government intervention in the lives of its citizens. The short story is that people–almost entirely farming families–who had lost everything in the Great Depression and the resulting drought were given an advance1 of money to buy a house and land and a chance to start life anew. Ray Cash, Johnny’s father–born in 1897 in Rison, Arkansas–entered his family on the relief rolls and was one of 500 families selected to settle a 15,000 timber-cut swath of Arkansas bottom land up in the north-east corner of Arkansas in Mississippi County, basically due north of Memphis Tennessee just this side of the border.
The program brought to bear on this situation was the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FERA), which was administrated on the national level by Harry Hopkins and in Arkansas by Alabama-born former teamster William R. Dyess. The farms and farmland was administered through the Rural Rehabilitation program, which under Dyess’ direction in Arkansas started the “Colonization Project No. 1" in May 1934.
Ray Cash and family moved into House 266 on its 20 acres in 1936, one of five families selected from Cleveland County, and the same year in which Colonization Project No. 1 was incorporated as Dyess Colony. In a short period of time construction in the new Colony included “an administration building (and a )...town center (which) included a community bank, beauty salon/barbershop, blacksmith shop, café, cannery, cotton gin, feedmill, furniture factory, harness shop, hospital, ice house, library, theater, newspaper (the Colony Herald), post office, printing shop, service station/garage, sorghum mill, and school. Members of the colony often performed community tasks on a cooperative basis, though the farms were worked individually.”2
* “Criteria for the all-white community included that applicants be destitute from the economic crisis, come from the lowest poverty level, be of “good moral background,” and that husband and wife each have the physical ability to clear the land and farm their acreage. Each farmer would draw a subsistence advance to buy twenty to forty acres of land and one of the new five-room houses, plus a mule, a cow, groceries, and supplies until the first year’s crop came in. All were expected to pay back the advance. The town would operate as a cooperative in which seed was purchased and crops were sold communally.”Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
2. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
Dyess had population of 2500 in 1936, now a town of 550 or so. I cannot see any remnants of the wagon-wheel design of the farm houses that were built there in 1934/5 from Google satellite images.
An excellent reference for the movement of families into the Mississippi River bottomlands is The final frontiers, 1880-1930: settling the southern bottomlands, by John Solomon Otto.
And now for this musical video about Dyess: