With a boisterous personality and unforgettable drive, Orton Caswell “Cas” Walker quickly became a Knoxville legend because of his success in the grocery business as well as a politician. He also had a huge impact on historian Joshua Hodge’s life.
Having moved into Walker’s old home, History Department Head, Dr. Ernest “Ernie” Freeberg discovered the lasting impact Walker left behind him.
“I think in part that there is a darkness and light force within Knoxville. There is the force of progress, cosmopolitanism and development, and then there is the other side which is Cas Walker,” Dr. Freeberg said at the event. “Walker was not simply a vehicle for promoting the culture in this region, but he was apart of it. He embraced and embodied this culture.”
Dr. Freeberg and at the time graduate student Joshua Hodge embarked on a project that would span several years leading up to the Cas On Campus Event that occurred Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.
“I began to talk to [Hodge] about this old urban folklore of Knoxville,” Dr. Freeberg said. “We decided rather than trying to get out the truth about Walker, we would gather every possible version of the legend.”
With that, the creation of the book Cas Walker: Stories on His Life and Legend had begun.
“People have been saying for 30 years that there needed to be a book about Walker,” Knoxville History Project’s Jack Neeley said at the event. “I don’t think there is ever going to be a better one than this one.”
Nearing the completion of the book in July 2017, doctors diagnosed Hodges with terminal brain cancer. However, this did not stop Hodge as he decided to finish his dissertation and his work on the Cas Walker story project.
Shortly after receiving his PhD, Hodge passed at the age of 35 on May 23, 2019.
“It became clear very quickly that [Hodge] was in every way that mattered the best of us,” lecturer in History Dr. Max Matherne said at the event. “He was generous, compassionate, genuine and universally loved.”
Furthermore, the story of Cas Walker was, in a way, a culmination of Dr. Hodge’s work.
“Dr. Hodge believed it was worthwhile to track down people’s voices even though it is difficult,” Dr. Matherne said. “I would hope that that would be his legacy as a historian. He also has other legacies. Legacies in a lot of our hearts who knew him as a warm and trusted friend and if he were here to answer that question, he would probably say his daughter Hazel would be his lasting legacy.”
Continuing to pay tribute to Dr. Hodge, the History department also created an award in his honor.
“The award is called the Joshua S. Hodge Scholarship,” Dr. Matherne said. “It is a cash award that will be given out to graduate students who work on the theme of trying to recover lost voices such as those concerning Cas Walker.”
Dr. Hodge’s book Cas Walker: Stories on His Life and Legend is now available online.
Edited by Grace Goodacre and Christian Knox
Featured photo by Abigail Francis