Virtual Symposium

Social Justice in the Life and Music of Johnny Cash

Oct. 15-16, 2021

When the Cash family moved to Dyess, Arkansas, they were looking for a fresh start. Like many in Arkansas, the Cash family had been devastated by the crisis of the Great Depression. The Dyess Colony was a federal project designed to provide relief to 500 such families by making it possible for them to start affordable family farms. Johnny Cash grew up among these families, watching this project unfold.

But the Dyess Colony was not the only relief effort in the area. In nearby Tyronza, for instance, farmers and sharecroppers organized theSouthern Tenant Farmers Union and advocated for social justice. Johnny Cash’s childhood world was filled with struggling people and efforts to improve their conditions.

This environment no doubt had an effect on Cash and his career. He embraced his own social justice causes, such as prison reform and Native American rights. Cash never forgot Dyess and the struggles and triumphs of the people who lived there, the people who were among the “poor and beaten down” for whom he wore black.

We invite proposals that consider Johnny Cash and the pursuit of social justice. Some topics could include:

  • The life and lifeways of the people of the Dyess Colony during the Great Depression.
  • Social justice movements in the Arkansas Delta (public, private, and organized labor).
  • Social justice in Johnny Cash’s music (Folsom Prison, Bitter Tears, the Great Depression in song).
  • Social justice in Cash’s musical influences and in his contemporaries.

This proposal is particularly appropriate this year as Arkansas is replacing its two statues in National Statuary Hall with statues of Cash and of Arkansas Civil Rights leader Daisy Gatson Bates. The pairing of these two great Arkansans invites us to consider not only Cash’s musical contributions but also his contributions to building a more just society.

The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival, scheduled for Oct. 15-16, 2021, invites proposals for virtual presentations. We would especially welcome proposals for presentations that break away from the standard format of reading research papers, appealing to specialists and non-specialists alike. Research and artistic presentations that incorporate music, images, film, etc., will be given first preference.

The deadline for application is June 30, 2021. Please submit an abstract of 150 words, as well as a brief bio and two-page CV to Presentations will be presented virtually, so please include a statement about virtual presentation preference (Zoom panel, pre-recorded presentation, etc.) and any technology needs.


Each entry should consist of:

  • Presenter’s name and affiliation
  • Abstract of the presentation (150 words or less)
  • Current vita (2 pages max)
  • Contact information including your address, phone number, and email address
  • The technical needs for your presentation


JCHF Symposium Committee
c/o Dr. Adam Long, Chair
Arkansas State University
P.O. Box 2050
State University, AR 72467
Phone: 870-972-2803