John Cashin, dentist and revered Alabama civil rights advocate, died from kidney failure at a Washington D.C. hospital on March 21, according to the Associated Press. The 82-year-old was widely known for his establishment of the Alabama National Democratic Party and his run, against George C. Wallace in 1970, for Alabama governor.
Cashin’s death was confirmed by his daughter, Sheryll Cashin, who said her father was fighting pneumonia prior to his death.
According to the New York Times, Cashin was born in Huntsville, Ala. in 1928. After receiving a doctoral degree in dentistry from Nashville, Tenn.’s Meharry Medical College, he served with the Army Dental Corps in France.
He and two other Black men ran for mayor of Huntsville in 1964, and according to the Huntsville Times, their candidacies marked the first time the town had seen any Black candidates for office.
“We knew we weren’t going to win, but somebody had to break the ice,” Cashin told the Huntsville Times during a 1996 interview.
In 1968, Cashin founded the National Democratic Party of Alabama, which was created as an alternative to the state’s anti-integration Democratic Party. Through the group’s efforts, six African-American candidates won local seats in Alabama’s Black Belt region, despite heavy opposition.
Cashin unsuccessfully ran for governor in the 1970 general election. Wallace, his opponent, won 74.51 percent of the vote, while Cashin came in second place with nearly 15 percent.
Despite his loss, many people across the country respected Cashin for his fervent efforts to integrate Alabama’s Democratic Party up until the NDPA’s disband in the mid ’70s.
“As a young man growing up in Alabama, it was important to see men like Dr. John Cashin who helped us know that we, too, could achieve as he had,” Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University told the AFRO. “He was a true trailblazer. Breaking the political color barrier in Alabama was not easy at the time but he did it by running for governor of the state, which created an enormous amount of pride within the Black community and all across the country. John Cashin made a path for many of us who came after him.”
Cashin’s high school friend, Ann Emory, echoed Wilson’s thoughts on the leader’s indelible legacy. “He was highly intelligent and very civil rights conscious,” Emory told the AFRO. “His career image and quest for equality is a legacy that should be followed by those who knew him and survive him.”
Moses Newsome, former writer and editor for the AFRO said that Cashin had an immense role in the south and recalled how he used to always lend a helping hand to the newspaper’s staff when he was able to. “He was a giant in southern politics,” Newsome said. “He was a guy that had a lot of courage and understood the power of the vote and he’d go up against anybody that he felt wasn’t living up to the ideals of the country. could call him for almost any issue at almost any time. He was a fighter and he stood up for his people.”
Read more about the life and times of John Cashin in the AFRO Black History Archives: