“Yielding to the Expressed Will of the Community”

Nestled among the freeze-fires, soggy cypress swamps, and cracker comedy of Cross Creek, chapter 16 lurks like a sociological snake in the brush. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Baskin dubbed it Black Shadows. In my Simon and Schuster edition, it announces itself with a pencil sketch of one caricatured black man shooting another in gut with a rifle. (If you ever get a chance to see it, note the lips.) A well-dressed woman, presumably Marjorie, looks on with a hand pressed against her cheek in a statement of Oh My-ness. Palm fronds form the backdrop.

Here’s how Marjorie opened the chapter:

“I am not of the race of southerners who claim to understand the Negro. There are a few platitudes dear to the hearts of these that seem reasonably accurate. The Negro is just a child. The Negro is carefree and gay. The Negro is religious in an amusing way. The Negro is a congenital liar. There is no dependence to be put in the best of them.”


Sunday, March 4, 1945: “Florida Still Undeveloped, Says Caldwell”

I’m now in possession of what’s left of the Walton case file for the Cross Creek Trial. While rummaging through various transcripts, depositions, and letters of support for Zelma, I came across a small manila envelope containing five immaculately creased and folded copies of Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union state news pages from March 4, 1945. That date marked Florida’s centennial as a state.

There’s nothing about the case in that edition. But Marjorie shows up twice, as the star of unrelated stories. That suggests something about her prominence in 1945 Florida following the success of The Yearling and Cross Creek.


Introducing Cason v Baskin: Florida’s Most Fascinating Lawsuit

In 1943, as World War II raged, my Great Aunt Kate Walton, one of Florida’s first female lawyers, sued Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Baskin on behalf of Zelma Cason, a onetime friend who felt defamed by Rawlings’ portrayal of her in the book Cross Creek. The lawsuit and trial, and the core American arguments that surrounded it, make for riveting reading and study. Whether you’re a Marjorie fan, history buff, or relative of mine, I hope you’ll take some time to learn with me about this this unique moment in Florida’s development, when people of great substance and ability clashed over the power of language and the sanctity of the individual.