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Title: Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: West, Don, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn Faherty, Ray
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 216 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-11-20, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0016)
Author: Jacquelyn Hall
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series E. Labor. Southern Oral History Program Collection (E-0016)
Author: Don West
Description: 252 Mb
Description: 74 p.
Note: Interview conducted on January 22, 1975, by Jacquelyn Hall and Ray Faherty; recorded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Linda Killen.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series E. Labor, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
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Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975.
Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
West, Don, interviewee


Interview Participants

    DON WEST, interviewee
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer
    RAY FAHERTY, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JACQUELYN HALL:
When were you born, Don?
DON WEST:
June 6, 1906.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your father was a small farmer in north Georgia.
DON WEST:
That's right. Gilmer County near Ellajay. About fifteen miles from Ellajay. I was born on the Cantecay River. My father was a hill farmer. All of the mountain people then, you know, who lived out of the towns, were farmer people.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Owned his own land?
DON WEST:
We owned a little piece of land. About 100 acres of very rugged mountain land. We sold it for $400 when we went to the cotton country. I was down there last summer and they said any land around there is worth $2 to $3,000 an acre. This is what's happened to mountain land.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Second homes.
DON WEST:
Yeah. Condominiums. Ski resorts. All kinds of tourism.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your father buy the land or did he get it from your grandparents—
DON WEST:
Well, I think… when my mother married… my grandpa always had a custom. I think he had thirteen kids and he always gave each one of his boys a mule and each one of his girls a cow. On my father's side, I think my grandfather helped my dad to get a little piece of land. Very cheap then, you know. Practically everybody owned

Page 2
a little piece of mountain land, that lived in the mountains. There were practically no tenants. Tenant farming was down in the deep South. Cotton country. Old slave country.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you leave the mountains?
DON WEST:
Well, my father wanted to get to a place where there would be more schooling for the kids. As I said previously, we had only four months a year total school term. I went through the sixth grade in that kind of school. Down in the cotton country, which had been the old slave holding country, they had seven and nine months schooling. My dad wanted to go down there so we could get more education for the kids. We moved and he became a sharecropper and that was the rest of his existence until he died.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did he feel about moving from being a mountain land-owner to being a sharecropper?
DON WEST:
He always wanted to go back. All my life as a kid, the rest of the time, that was dad's hope. That someday he'd be able to go back to the mountains. And that's true of all of our family. Our whole family went down. Many of them went to the cotton mills. Adco in Cartersville. I had one uncle, Harv, he was my father's brother. He was supposedly one of the best moonshine liquor makers in the mountains. And he always had bad luck. He'd get caught. But I remember, he also went down out of the mountains. He didn't make liquor after he left the mountain and went to the cotton mills. And when he died his last request was that they take him back to the mountains and bury him. I remember I went with them. Oh, it was a rough muddy little road up

Page 3
the Cantecay River from Ellajayout to Cantecay. And we buried him in Ebenizer Church yard. I wrote a story about that. He was a terrific figure to me. He was a great big six feet and a half tall. And he was always poverty striken. But when a kid went to his home, you know, he took you in and he'd sit you down to a meal that had practically nothing on the table. But he would laugh and you felt welcome and you felt like somebody, almost like a king. You know, he was sitting you down to eat. Yet he hardly ever knew where the next meal was coming from. He was a terrific character. He always had, as I said, bad luck. Once the revenue men raided his still. It was on the Cantecay River and there was a big bluff off into the river. The revenuers were out on the side away from the river and they said "We've got you now." My uncle looked around and saw that they had him on that side. He made a big dive into the river. He was a good swimmer. He escaped. He'd tell these stories and laugh. He said "And by god I was there firing the furnace and the first thing I saw, I looked up and here they were. I was a good runner. I thought well, I can outrun them. I made a dive and caught my foot in a goddamn piece of brush and fell. And they had me." They sent him to the pen.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You mean your whole family. Not just your mother and father but your uncles and you—
DON WEST:
All of them. Both my gradfathers, our uncles and aunts. This was an exodus. This was a general picture of north Georgia to Atlanta, or to Cartersville, the cotton mills. See, the cotton mills came in around the piedmont. I remember the first time I ever heard of

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cotton mills was the pack peddler. The pack peddler once a year used to come through the mountains and he always stayed one night at our place and stayed with other neighbors. You know, and he has his pack on his back and he'd show us a pretty piece of cloth that he had and so on. And he came one year talking about jobs that was down at the Atco and Cartersville and Canton. Where the cotton mills had come, around the foothills of the mountains. So mountain people just went out, as they did over in North Carolina, to Gastonia, Marion and so on. So this was a general picture. My grandfather on my father's side died working in the Adco cotton mills, now at Atco, Georgia. That's where I learned the song "Hard Times a Cotton Mills Girls" that Hedy has on one of her albums.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When was this that you moved?
DON WEST:
Right after the first world war our family began moving. My grandfather on my father's side moved out first. His family and then my father and then my uncles and aunts generally followed afterwards. Most of our people went into the cotton mills. But my mother said… I remember one of my grandfather's said "Well, your family, you've got nine kids. They can all get jobs in the cotton mill." And I remember my mother saying "I never intend for one of my children to go into the cotton mill if I can help It. I'll be willing to wash clothes and wear my knuckles bear and anything to keep them out of the cotton mills." So none of my immediate family ever went into the cotton mills. My father became a sharecropper instead of a mill worker. Most of the others went into the mills. He remained a sharecropper until he

Page 5
died.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where was he a sharecropper?
DON WEST:
In Cobb County in Georgia around Marietta. The place where we used to live now has the big bomber plant there. Right close to Marietta. It was a medium sized thing. That wasn't a great big sharecropping area. The big sharecropping was on down toward Atlanta. But a lot of tenant farmers and sharecroppers were there. So my father went to that area and we grew up. We all worked on the farm. I got these fingers shot off from dynamite there on the farm. My mother, kids, brothers and sisters, everybody worked.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where did your father get his desire for you all to go to school?
DON WEST:
I think it was his own awareness that he'd never had any education and my mother hadn't had any. My mother had about a fifth grade education. And they had a feeling that they would love for their kids to go on to school. My mother used to read a lot. I remember once a Sears and Roebuck catelogue had six classics advertised for ten cents apiece. Little paperback books. And she ordered the whole six of them. And she read them aloud to the kids, to us. I remember some of the neighbor kids talking about "Well, Donnie West's mother's read a whole book." We just didn't have any books. Bible was about the main stock and here we had six books and my mother had read them all. All through the book, the whole book.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Somewhere back your ancesters had been professional people.
DON WEST:
Well, my grandfather's father had been a doctor. He was one of the earliest settlers there. And he was the one that married a

Page 6
Cherokee. I'm quite sure this must have influenced my grandfather's attitude a great deal. Because he was not sympathetic to the confederacy. Like thousands of other north Georgians, mountaineers, who went with the Union rather than the Confederacy. And he always taught us that we should respect all people, regardless of their color or their race or their background. To hold nothing against people that they themselves couldn't help.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So while you were growing up he was still alive?
DON WEST:
Oh my yes. He was, to me… well, I guess now we would call him sort of a mountain patriarch. He was the head of his family. Great big. About six feet and four inches. And as I sometimes say to some of my long haired friends he was quite modern in more ways than his racial attitudes. He had a great big beard down on his chest. I used to think, when I'd hear the preachers talk about God, I'd think about God and he was almost the spitting image of my old grandpa. With this big beard.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he practicing medicine?
DON WEST:
No, his father had, see. But there was no school. And before the civil war they had no public school system. So my grandfather probably never got as much as two grades of formal education. But he was a j.p. and a leader in his community. He had a lot of native ability. Incidentally, my grandfather was the first person that told me that scalping was not an Indian practice but had been brought in by white man. I remember once I took a little sixth grade history book home and was showing him a picture of a couple of Indians.

Page 7
Had their knives and had the hair of a white girl, just about ready to take the scalp. It made him very angry. He said this told the wrong story. He said that in the first place it was the white man that brought in the custom of scalping, not the Indian. He had learned that from Chief White Path. See, the Cherokee nation had been there in north Georgia and my grandfather knew some of these Cherokee leaders very well. White Path had been the war chief of the Cherokee.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In the introduction to Cards of Southern Earth you tell a story about an indentured servant who ran away with a Cherokee. Was that apocryphal?
DON WEST:
That's an old legend. I don't know how accurate it would be.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But what you're saying now is that your great grandfather was married to a Cherokee woman. Did you go to Berry School?
DON WEST:
Yes, we went out to Berry. It was a school founded by Miss Martha Berry for mountain children. A great deal was made about the school, made over the school. Henry Ford, for example, put I don't know how many million dollars into it to Berry. And he did it, I'm quite sure, with the idea that he was helping to keep the pure attitude of the mountain people separated from any kind of ideas of organization, union. Ford used to come down to Berry when we were students there. He doted on the old mountain folk dancing. I danced with Mrs. Ford many, many times. She and Henry would be out there on the floor dancing the square dances. He gave jobs in Detroit to lots of mountain kids, Berry kids. As I may have mentioned to you previously, twice

Page 8
while I was at Berry they showed this Birth of a Nation, taken from Dixon's Klansman. A very vicious, anti-Negro kind of slanderous movie. And before the movie would be shown the history teachers would prepare us in history class, you know. Give us all the data back of this thing. I believed that if, after that picture was shown, a black man had come across campus he might have gotten beaten up or something. Because it stirred up a lot of hard feeling. My feeling about it is that the missionary school such as that… one of their purposes, intentional or otherwise, was to separate the mountain youth from their real heritage. Our real heritage had been a heritage of opposition to slavery. Abolitionism sentiment. Many thousands of our people joined in the Union army rather than the Confederate army. But at Berry we never learned a thing about this. You see, Berry was only about 75 miles south of Jasper, Georgia, where the Union flag was put on the courthouse every single day throughout the four years of Civil War, there in the Georgia mountains. And we'd never learn that kind of thing at Berry. We were shown The Birth of a Nation.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What years were you there?
DON WEST:
Let's mee, must have been the early part of the '20s. Maybe about 1921 or 22 to '26, I guess. I got expelled at Berry when I was in my senior year, but I had enough units, as they call it, to get into college. So I got into Lincoln Memorial—
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you get expelled for?
DON WEST:
Well, there was a faculty member, who was chaplain, and he was the one faculty member who fraternized with the students. He had a

Page 9
victrola in his apartment and he'd let us come up and play. Had a lot of old folk records. I don't know how he happened to get them because he was a Presbyterian from Philadelphia. But he was very friendly with us and we all liked him. One of the things they didn't like at Berry was for a faculty member to, as they call it, fraternize with the students. So they fired him. There were three of us who protested very strongly, too strongly I suppose, until we got our walking papers along with this chaplain.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were the teachers mostly northern—
DON WEST:
Mostly they were. They would bring in the teachers mostly from somewhere up north to teach. Most of these mission schools in the mountains, I would say… my observation has been that most of them were staffed by northern people. Martha Berry was southern.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was she like?
DON WEST:
I used to live in her home. I was her personal clean up boy around her house for one semester. She was very, I guess, benevolent and very conscious of her superior aristocratic position. We were treated like little servant kids.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you feel about that at the time?
DON WEST:
I didn't particularly like it. Never did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was the school like?
DON WEST:
Very strict. Girls and boys were strickly separated. When we went to chapel one marched in on one aisle and one on the other. You'd get a demerit if you were ever seen, you know, having anything to do with a girl, like even speaking to one or smiling at each other.

Page 10
Very, very strict. Girls on their side and the boys on their side on the campus and everywhere. Never let us get together except occasionally we'd have a social, as they called it, or some kind of a little party. And particularly when the Henry Ford group came down they'd get us all together and we acted like we were real human beings then, you know. Ford was out there on the floor. used to get amused at the way they'd hook up the old oxen to a wagon and drive it all around the campus when Ford's party was there. They'd maneuver it to have the ox wagon meet the Ford group at every possible chance. As I said in the little thing I wrote, maybe they thought he might give us a sliver or two. Later, of course, he did. Millions.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Later on there was a strike at Berry's school that got a little publicity.
DON WEST:
That was after I was there. A good while later. I was connected with that. I was in Atlanta during that period. This is a thing I didn't think to mention last night. While I was working with the Angelo Herndon defense committee in Atlanta. The students, that summer, were working…. See, we used to stay on the campus and work in the summer to pay for our board and room on through the rest of the year. The students were complaining that they were only getting ten cents an hour for their labor. And a committee of students came down to Atlanta to see me and said "Would you come up and organize us? We want to organize." Well, I was tied up and couldn't leave at that time but I sent a young student organizer up there that was connected with some kind of student union. He went up and he was not too discriminating.

Page 11
He went to see a certain boy that had come to see me. I gave him his name and address. And he left a note on the door. The boy was not in and he left a note on the door. And of course the housemother got the note and turned it in to the principal. The note said get all the boys and meet me at a certain gate. And when they met they were surrounded by a bunch of deputy sheriffs and they were arrested and the boy was put in jail. So we had a big ruckus about this. One of the school officials, with about fifteen of the chosen students, came down to Kennisaw, Georgia, where my father lived. They came down to see me. I wasn't at home. But I rode a motorcycle in those days and I came in just as they were leaving, about 100 yards up the road. They saw me coming, they knew it was me on the motorcycle. So they blocked the road and stopped me and we had a powwow for over an hour. One of the things I remember. They said "If you ever come on the campus again we are going to string you up to the first limb we can get you to." I was never to set my foot on the campus again. That was a sort of an interesting thing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did the students think to come down to see you in the first place? You had some connection?
DON WEST:
Yes, I guess they knew something of my attitude. I was pretty well known for believing in organization. I had written a little piece for the New Republic about Berry School.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Critical?
DON WEST:
Yes, well, I was pointing out that the students had grievances, justified grievances, and had absolutely no voice of their own.

Page 12
And they were paid arbitrarily. Determined that they should be paid ten cents an hour and so on. One day, for example, I received 300 letters in one mail. The postman had a special box to bring them out to my father's place. Three hundred letters. And the editor of the New Republic wired me. He said "We have received hundreds of letters here, protesting what you've written, saying that it's wrong and that you were lying." I said why don't you send a special investigator down. I don't know whether you've ever heard of the writer, Hamilton Basso. Hamilton Basso was a South Carolinian, I believe. Anyway, he wrote books. He was quite a well known writer then. They got Hamilton Basso to go to the campus and do a story, do an investigation. He spent a week on the campus and he wrote his story, for the New Republic. And he vindicated everything that I had written plus bringing out a lot of things that I hadn't. Like, for example, he never was allowed, on the campus, to be out of sight of a special agent that tailed him everywhere he went, all over the campus. He wrote all of this up and submitted it to the school officials for any reply, if they had any reply to it. They had none, so they published Basso's thing, which, as I say, vindicated everything I said. So I had become pretty well known for that kind of thing. And I'd been active there on the defense of Angela Herndon.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you left Berry School, then about 192—
DON WEST:
Yes, it must have been 23 when I left there. I took a job with the Southern Bell Telephone Company. Stringing wires from Gainesville to Talluleh Falls up through the north Georgia mountains. Southern

Page 13
Bell was putting in some new wires. We went along sort of like an extra gang on the railroad. We'd spend a week here and a week there, one place to another. Toward the end of the summer I wrote to Lincoln Memorial, telling them that I didn't have my diploma but I had seventeen units. You had to have twenty-one units to graduate from Berry and in ordinary colleges sixteen units would get you in. I asked if it would be possible to get into college on that basis. They thought it would. Finally, after I finished the summer working with Southern Bell, I hitchhiked up to LMU and I got on the campus. My father, as I said, was a sharecropper and he always was hard up to get money to buy his fertilizer and the things to run on while he made a crop. So I had given him all the money I had except I had enough to get to college and I had $1.65 left. I went in to see the dean. Dean Lewis. And I told him the story. I said I'd like to go to college, but I don't have any money. I said "I've got a total of $1.65 in cash." Well, he says "Are you willing to work?" I said "I've never known anything else but work. I'm not afraid of work." So he says "If you're willing to work, we think you can make it." So I did everything from milk cows, dig ditches to cut corn to carry laundry and wash dishes and pick chickens. Everything that you can conceive of to get through college. I don't say this bragging, but I always sent money home to my father. Because he was extremely poor. To help him with the other kids, you know. And then I worked to pay for the tuition for my older sister to come on to Berry and then come on to LMU. She came on with

Page 14
me to college.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you want brothers and sisters to go to Berry?
DON WEST:
Well, at the time that they came, my older sister came, I was at school there and I wanted them all to get as much education as possible. That was the only school I knew then. See, I was just a teenage kid. I was there. It was the only thing I knew about school. Before I went there, when we were living in Douglass County then, I was walking to high school. It must have been five or six miles from Lithia Springs to Douglassville. We lived on a place we were renting down there, little farm. That was a long walk. And my father said "If you can make it, making your expenses, I will be willing for you to leave." You know, it used to be that a boy had to stay at home until he was 21. Then he was his own man. But he says "You are free if you want to make it. If you can make it." So that's how I happened to go off on my own. I was about sixteen or so. I'd gone through the ninth grade in Douglassville. That's where I had the problem of having to wear bib overalls and all the little town boys had other kind of pants. But I continued to wear the bib overalls.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Lincoln Memorial was a fairly strict school, too, wasn't it?
DON WEST:
It was fairly. Not as much as Beria and not as much as Berry. I really felt great freedom when I first got there because they didn't tie you down. Not like Berry or Beria. But Lincoln had lots of rigid rules and regulations. Students didn't have much to say about

Page 15
campus affairs. Policies and so on. So there again, when I was a senior, we got involved in activities demanding more rights and privileges as students. And we had a strike. Of course I was expelled there at LMU. As I indicated in my talk last night, I was eventually re-instated. But when I was leaving LMU I had a younger brother. I didn't want him to go to Berry and I didn't want him to go to LMU. But there was a school over in Kentucky called Stuart Robinson School at Blackey, Kentucky. Blackey is in Letcher County. I'd been up and visited with the school and knew the principal. So this brother of mine—he was several years younger—I had him come up to LMU. I bought him a bus ticket at Cumberland Gap to go over to Whitesburg and to Blackey, to get in school there. I paid for his first entrance fee. I had $5 left when I'd bought his bus ticket. So I hitchhiked from Cumberland Gap over to Louisville, Kentucky. I had written to the Presbyterian seminary. I was going to be a Presbyterian preacher. And I had a promise of a scholarship. I had my records and all on file. So I hitchhiked over to Louisville and I got there a couple of days early. I started with $5 and I had just a little bit of change in my pocket when I got to Louisville. I went up to the dormitory and asked the house mother if I could stay in a dormitory room rather than having to go to a hotel or somewhere else. Her first question "Why don't you go to a hotel?" I said "I just don't have the money." "Why do you come in here early and all that." She wasn't very friendly. We in the mountains have always been accustomed to being particularly friendly with

Page 16
strangers and people who are from out of the way places. We always invite people to stay all night, you know. Hospitality is extended. So I was a little bit put off by this lady. I slept in the room that night and I kept thinking now if this is the kind of spirit this Presbyterian institution has, I don't want to stay here. So the next morning I put my little duds together in my bag and started hitchhiking to Nashville, Tennessee. Got down there and went into Vanderbilt University. That was 1929.
RAY FAHERTY:
You graduated from LMU in '29?
DON WEST:
Yeah. So, went into Vanderbilt. Went to see the dean. Dean Brown. I remember he was a very friendly old man with a long beard. I told him my predicament, that I wanted to go on to do graduate study but I didn't have any money. Well, again, he said there were jobs there and lots of kids did work in school to pay their way. So I got a job working in the cafeteria. Eventually I got a job in a Presbyterian settlement house, the Martha O'Brien Settlement House over close to Fisk University. Coaching basketball and youth activities. It was one of those ghetto communities, whites. I got my room and my board at the settlement house plus $45 a month in cash. So I was really set up. Before I got this job, one year Jesse Stuart came down, was in school there. Jesse, incidentally, flunked out that year at Vanderbilt. He didn't make it. He later was given an honorary doctorate degree by Vanderbilt. But he was very hard up, too. I was always pretty good at shifting around, keeping my head above water. I'd find something,

Page 17
one way or another, to make it. So I bought Jesse's food that year. Through college we'd been the closest personal friends. He and I had been inseparable. I'd always sort of helped him that way. Because when he came to college he was greener than I was. I was sort of a man of the world. I'd worked for the Southern Bell telephone company and been around a good bit. Jesse had never been anywhere. He was working on the gang once and somebody sent him after a left hand monkey wrench and that kind of thing. So I sort of got a warm feeling for Jesse because he was sort of shoved around a bit. And we were the closest of friends. And we went to Vanderbilt the same way. He later wrote a book in which he talks about Don East. Not Don West, but Don East. Kept him from starving, bought his meal tickets and all that kind of thing at Vanderbilt. There was a boarding house that you could go family style and eat for thirty-five cents a meal. Jesse and I would eat one meal a day and that poor old lady must not have made many pennies on the meals we ate, because we got three in one. That was what we'd do for months. That was the way we lived. One meal a day at this place where you could eat everything you could pile on your plate.
RAY FAHERTY:
Do you remember a teacher at Vanderbilt named Alva Taylor?
DON WEST:
Alva Taylor. He was a great spirit. He was a man that inspired his students to get out into things that were happening. He taught the Christian ethics course. I majored under Alva Taylor. I wrote my thesis under him. My thesis was the result of a study I made, a personal study over in east Kentucky on Quicksand-Troublesome Creek Hell Fer Sartin. Then, the most remote area of the mountains that we could find. I spent three months over there in that place. There was no paved road. No roads, no cafeterias, no motels or anything like that.

Page 18
I rode a horse. I stayed all night somewhere and slept somewhere and ate my meals for the three months with different people. I never paid for a single meal and not for a single night's lodging. It was very strange. I'd never been in that part of the mountain. I sometimes think of this when people talk about the mountain people being unfriendly and suspicious of strangers and all this kind of stuff. Now, I was a mountaineer. I knew about mountain culture and all that kind of thing. And I knew better than to be too prying about what some of the people I stayed with did. Some of them made blockade liquor, you know. As long as you tend to your own business and don't get too inquisitive about theirs, why you're all right. They don't like a reporter. On the tv at Beckeley they wanted me to give a series of discussions on mountain moonshining and I've been doing some of that. I was remembering some of the code of the mountains. It was a very interesting thing. When I was a kid there in north Georgia, for example, my dad never did make liquor at all. My granddaddy, on my daddy's side, was supposed to be one of the best moonshine liquor makers there was in the mountains. He made pure corn. None of this diluted stuff. No potash or lye or anything like that. Real corn. Made his own malt. Sprouting his corn and grinding it up and so on. And my uncle, the one I mentioned that we took back to the mountains to bury after he died down in the low country, he was always making it and he was good. But my dad didn't make it. But nobody would report on a neighbor. If a neighbor was making it, no other neighbor would report him to the officials. I remember

Page 19
one morning my dad took me out. Our house was up on a knoll and we had a big range of mountains, of hollows going up, and he showed me smoke from seven different places going up that morning. You could see it going up through the air. And each one was a still. And he knew the name of every person that was running each still. Numbers of times I remember he was arrested and taken down to the county seat. And my grandpa would have to go his bond and so on. I remember one time they found some kegs of liquor stashed in our fence corner. We used to fence our fields with these rails, you know. And we'd turn our stock outside, on the range, and they'd eat chestnuts and acorns and so on. But this neighbor had been making liquor across the mountain on a branch on our place. He had stored in the fence corner some of his kegs. Now hardly ever did the revenuers get up there because we had a system there in the mountains from Ellajay. See, Ellajay was fifteen miles down the river and our community was [unknown] on Turkey Creek. And if the revenuers started out from Ellajay we had a community phone. We'd developed a cooperative telephone system. We'd nail the brackets on trees and put up posts and so on. We all had different rings. Ours was a long and a short and a long. Some would be two shorts. Everybody had a different ring. But there was one special ring that was the revenuers ring. And when the revenuers started out from Ellajay, the first one that saw them would ring the revenuers ring. Seven longs was the revenue ring. When that revenue ring sounded everybody was on the line… see, that was

Page 20
fifteen miles away. People would be on the line. Where are they? How are they traveling? By buggy or horseback? There were two roads up the way. (One was by Dyne, one was by Cantecay.) Which way are they coming? By Dyne or by Cantecay? They'd get all the information. When the revenuers got up to our place, everybody was innocent and clean and smiling and welcoming. They'd got their jugs out, their stills out, their barrels out. Hardly ever did they find anything. But once they did get up there and find these kegs in our fence corner and came on down and arrested my dad. I was just a kid. I remember I heard him say to mama "Well, I'm not a bit worried. Your dad will go my bond. And when the time comes, Arthur will come out and take it off of me." It belonged to Arthur Lowen. Now those revenuers knew that that was not my dad's liquor. They knew that he did not make it. But they knew the one sure way of catching the man it belonged to was to take my dad to jail. So they took him. And when the time came, Arthur Lowens went down and said "West had nothing to do with that liquor. He didn't know it was there. I put it there. I take full responsibility." This is the kind of a code of ethics that existed there. No self-respecting bootlegger would let any innocent neighbor suffer because of his doings. And no neighbor would report on another. The most despicable character imaginable would have been a reporter. That came in in the McCarthy period, you know, when we had so many stooges, witnesses and informers.
RAY FAHERTY:
While you were at Vanderbilt did you know Claude Williams?

Page 21
DON WEST:
Oh yes. I knew Claude. Claude and I were close personal friends for, my gosh, half a lifetime. Yes, he was there. He was much older. He'd been out, he'd been a fundamentalist evangelist preacher and had got converted, I guess, with Alva Taylor.
RAY FAHERTY:
Taylor taught a kind of Christian socialism?
DON WEST:
He did. His class lent itself to this. Christian ethics was what he taught. He himself was very much dedicated to human values. I remember while we were there a strike was going on out at Wilder, Tennessee. You maybe have heard of Wilder. Maybe you know that ballad of Barney Graham. It's in this book Hard Hitting Songs. 1932 and '33. Alva Taylor had his students going out on the picket lines on weekends. We got acquainted with Barney Graham. I knew him very well personally. He was shot one Sunday, right in front of the company store, by a couple of company gunmen. And his little daughter, Della Mae, wrote the ballad that I referred to. She was only twelve years old then. She tells in the ballad about how her father was shot and about how they beat him in the head with the butts of their gun to make sure the job was completed. Then, you know, the control of the coal operators was so great that there wasn't any churches that would have his funeral and any preachers that would preach his funeral. So his wife talked with me. I'd never had a funeral in my life. But some of the divinity students, we got together and talking with Dr. Taylor we worked out something. We had the funeral up in his house. Barney Graham's funeral was the first one I ever participated in as a preacher.

Page 22
RAY FAHERTY:
You were still a student then. You hadn't graduated.
DON WEST:
No, I was a student.
RAY FAHERTY:
When did you leave Vanderbilt?
DON WEST:
I left in '33 I believe.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Howard Kester was there too?
DON WEST:
Howard Kester was there. Ward Rogers. Have you ever heard of Ward Rogers? Of course I knew what's his name, Mitchell of the STF, Southern Tenant Farmers. Sharecroppers Union and Southern Tenant Farmers. They had differences you know. Claude Williams was with the sharecroppers. But he was with the tenant farmers, too. And Mitchell red-baited Claude a lot. And Howard Kester, Buck Kester, red-baited Claude a lot. Both Claude and I were barred from joining the fellowship of southern churchmen. We were both preachers, but we were not fit to become… to be fellowshipped with—
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you all were at Vanderbilt studying under Alva Taylor were there differences between you then?
DON WEST:
Well, now with Buck. Buck Kester one time talked to me about joining the communist party. Funniest thing. He was thinking about joining the communist party. Later he became a very bitter communist baiter. Of course he baited poor old Claude. Claude has been baited by a lot of them. He was defrocked, you know, by his church. Had his credentials taken away from him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you all were students at Vanderbilt, how would you define your political ideology at that point?
DON WEST:
Well, we were just being stimulated to become, to get

Page 23
interested in such things as Wilder. Of course I worked in the ghetto of Nashville and had more contact with Norman Thomas there. We were just reading and thinking. Thomas. I introduced Norman once in some meetings. He came down and spoke at Crossville. He spoke over at Wilder during that time. There's a song. Two or three of us got together and we sang a song, The Davidson Wilder Blues. I've got the blues, I sure do got them bad. Heddy has it on one of her albums. I taught it to her later. It was written by some of the miners there. So Norman Thomas influenced him, I think, a great deal. Because he was then a rather vital kind of personality in addition to Alva. And Dr. Willard Uphaus was another. He was connected with the YMCA graduate school, which was then existing right across the street from Vanderbilt. I took courses with Willard. Willard is now, of course, connected with the World Fellowship of Faith, a movement. He spent his 72nd year in prison in New Hampshire, you know, because he refused to turn his guest list of the camp [unknown] over to the state attorney general. Held him in contempt and sent him to jail for a year. He's now a member of our board down at Pipestem. We have a branch of the world fellowship there. We have five cabins for it. Part of the world fellowship thing. He's in Florida, too, right now, with another branch.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know the people at Scaritt College?
DON WEST:
Oh yes. I knew a lot of people there. I don't remember their names too well. But we always had this mixture. I knew people over at Fisk. I took a course with E. Franklin Frazier at Fisk. He was then

Page 24
a very vital kind of black instructor, professor. I remember I used to differ with him on some things. I remember one day in class he was talking about he was in the University of Chicago and here he was a student, a brilliant student. And here was a scrub woman out there scrubbing the floor. And although she was a scrub woman, she was white and he had to make special deference to this person. I was offended there. I remember, in my undeveloped kind of way. And I said "what the dickens difference does it make that you were an intellectual, that you were a professor, assistant professor, and this poor woman was a scrub woman. Doesn't make any difference to me whether she had on work clothes or white collar." And so on. I didn't like that idea of sort of aristocratic attitude. I ran into that a lot among certain intellectuals of the black people. They went along with the old southern attitude that the poor white was the one to be blamed. He was… to me he was the victim, but to them he was often given responsibility for racism and this kind of thing.
RAY FAHERTY:
Highlander fits in earlier, doesn't it?
DON WEST:
Highlander came in 1933. Highlander folk school, as I have said before…. The Congregational church had something to do with the beginning of Highlander Folk School. I had been interested in a folk school for a long time. And the southern superintendent of the Congregational church was named Fred P. Ensminger. The Congregationalists had a chair at Vanderbilt. That's how the connection came, you see. Ensminger and I had talked a great deal. I was ordained by the

Page 25
Congregational church. He said he knew this old lady up at Mout Eagle who had a farm. She'd been trying to do a community program. And she might be willing to turn that thing over to me to start a folk school that I was thinking about. So we went up. He took me up there and we talked with Dr. Lillian Johnson and she agreed to turn the property, the houses and the land, over for a folk school. So we began. That was I guess in 1933. Just after I finished at Vanderbilt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where did you meet Miles Horton?
DON WEST:
Well, I was going to say. We had Mt Eagle. We had the thing going. We had the property, we had the house. We'd gone up there. Connie, my wife, and I. That was in the late summer. And there was a conference over at Blue Ridge, N.C. I'd been with the YMCA graduate school for a couple of summers. We'd been over at Blue Ridge. And I had a Y conference there and I was over in the conference at Blue Ridge and I had a long distance telephone call from Asheville. And the caller said "This is Miles Horton. I hear that you are starting a folk school and I'm looking around in western North Carolina for a site to start a folk school myself. I'd like to come over and talk with you." So he came over and we talked and when I finished the conference he said "Would you be willing to go with me around through the mountains looking for a site for my school?" He had a couple of young girls from New York with him. They had a car. So, for several days we rode around in western Carolina. We went to east Kentucky and looked around. And then finally I invited him to come on down to Mt Eagle and see our place. He came down. He looked it over. We walked around and

Page 26
talked and he liked it. And he said "How would it be if I came in as your partner here at Mt Eagle." You know, I was a young fellow starting out and I welcomed cooperation. So he came in and so Highlander got started. We debated about what we'd name the school. Finally one day, one evening we were talking and my wife Connie says "Why not call it Highlander?" So this is how Highlander got its name in the beginning and this is how it got started. Now, I've read a lot of accounts of Highlander.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I just read an article by Frank Adams that gives… skews the chronology around a different way.
DON WEST:
Well, as the thing developed, you know…. Let's see, I was the state organizer of the socialist party in Tennessee. You were given that title. There wasn't much of a party. But I'd been given that title. I was a member of the socialist party.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you join? While you were still at Vanderbilt?
DON WEST:
It was in the '30s. Oh, yeah, sure. There was activity. It was a very loose thing. It wasn't a very well knit organization. Kester was in it. I guess Claude was. I'm not sure.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
DON WEST:
I have read a lot of history, studied a lot of history. And run into characters in history such as Levi Coffin, who was an underground railroad worker and called himself the father of the underground railroad and the president and all. And to me, in a lot of ways, he's a bastard, see. But he did a lot of good in spite of being a bastard. I remember

Page 27
Coffin and John Fairfield. Fairfield was a conductor on the underground railroad and always went armed. He would steal a horse or he would steal a slave. He would shoot to defend the refugees who were under his care. He would come through Cincinnati, where Coffin kept his underground station, and he would never stay with Coffin. He would get help for his refugees as much as he could, but he would stay out in the black community. Coffin was always criticizing Fairfield because he was wicked, he was immoral, he would carry a gun, he would cuss, and he'd said that he would shoot a slave holder if it meant saving his refugees from being taken back into slavery. And that was wicked to Coffin. "But," Coffin would say, "he'd give the shirt off his back for a refugee." And that was true, he would do that. So I have always admired Fairfield and I thought Coffin, in many ways, was a bastard. But he did a lot of good in spite of it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But it's important. History gets written by the people who tell the stories. That's the whole purpose of the type interviews we are doing, to try to get a lot of different perspectives on things. It's not a matter so much of criticizing other people.
DON WEST:
Yeah, I know. Well, I was just saying… what I have never done. The first year at Highlander…. See, Miles had come from Union and I'd come from Vanderbilt. I was local and my perspective was local. And he had contacts with Reinhold Neibuhr, you know, big shots in the East. I had none. So a number of his friends came down from New York and so on. I've always been more locally oriented,

Page 28
and more mountain oriented than people coming from the outside. And during that period there was a very noted case that came up in Atlanta. I read about it in the papers. This young man, Angelo Herndon, who was arrested and sentenced to twenty years on the Georgia chain gang. First I went down to Chattanooga, made some contacts in Chattanooga. I don't know how in the world I made them. But they were people who were on the left. They were the ones that insisted that I ought to go to Atlanta. I don't even remember their names. You know, I've known so many people like that that I don't remember their names. Anyway, they were Jewish people. Some of them were small store keepers. A lot of young…. A lot of small Jewish storekeepers in southern towns. But they were left, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you run into that quite a bit? Jewish storekeepers who were….
DON WEST:
Oh sure. We wouldn't have been able to hold the Herndon thing together in Atlanta if it hadn't been for the small Jewish storekeepers. They were in the black community lots of the time. My goodness, that's one of the ways we lived. We had practically no money, but we'd get a little piece of meat or some groceries or something like that to eat.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, that's real important. Because there has been a lot of studies of southern Jews during the Civil Rights movement and a lot of criticism. I mean, that they did not speak out during the civil rights movement.

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DON WEST:
I know. Of course, this is like anything else. It's like the mountain people. There were lots of abolitionists in the mountains and there were some bastards that were not abolitionists. And it is true with every bunch. But I personally know, in the 'thirties, of many small Jewish merchants, in Atlanta, Georgia, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, who were definitely fighting for civil rights. They had to be careful because the situation was a tight situation. But we have held secret meetings in backs of Jewish stores many times in Atlanta, for example, and in Chattanooga. You know, we could go into a store. It was sort of obvious that people go in and out of stores. And go back in the back room and have a meeting. And it wouldn't be too liable, you know, to be broken up by cops.
So, as I started to say, I got down to Atlanta. Hitchhiked down there and went down on Auburn Avenue where there was a little office. It was a defense committee office. I went in and introduced myself and told them what I was interested in. All of a sudden we were having a meeting here in the Royal Theater I think it was then down on Auburn Avenue, black theater. We were having a meeting tonight, for Herndon in this theater and we would like you to come to it. For you to be chairman of it, to emcee. I sort of ignorantly said yes, would be willing to. And they wanted me to talk. I didn't have any better sense than to talk, either, I guess. So I chaired the meeting and said something. From then on I was a red. I was labelled right off as a red. So, Miles was, I'd say, SP oriented. Reinhold Neibuhr and this sort of

Page 30
thing. And I was more and more going to the Angelo Herndon type thing. We had a crossing of the ways on that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So right in the beginning. That was like in the first year when you all were there at Highlander.
DON WEST:
Yep. I stayed only one year at Highlander. I was there one year.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you move to the left?
DON WEST:
Well, they were doing things, see. I was familiar with the Scottsboro boys. They were doing things. They were defending those nine boys. I went down there and got acquainted. I met lots of people. I met some people who were killed there. I remember Boris Israel. He was beaten up later in Harlan County. Beaten into a jelly. He never recovered. He was a complete wreck the rest of his life. He was a reporter on the Daily Worker. The people I met, I learned that they were people who were dedicated. They were committed. And they stuck their necks out and they took chances and they worked. It's unbelievable the kind of discipline they had. The modern so-called movement. I get depressed sometimes at the irresponsible kind of things. It's a maybe so thing. But then… you're going to have a meeting over in Weinberg's store, back of Weinberg's store at seven o'clock. If you were assigned to that meeting you damn well better be there at that meeting, at seven o'clock. You couldn't come dragging in thirty minutes late. Or you couldn't say "Well, next week. I couldn't make it." That just didn't happen. If you were in the group, you were there. Wasn't any doubt about it. Had terrific discipline.

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Committed. Really committed.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who were the people who were in the local defense committee when you got there? Were they blacks? From the CP?
DON WEST:
It was mixed. I didn't know who was and who wasn't CP. I mean not in every case. I knew some who were. Lots of black people. I remember Ben Davis, of course, I knew very well. You know the character Ben Davis? Later councilman in New York. He was an attorney there. He later became a councilman in New York on the CP ticket. Ben was the defense attorney. I worked very closely with Ben. He had a law partner, John Gear. John Gear has seldombeen mentioned. John Gear, really, did lots of the leg work and lots of the plodding kind of stuff that it took to make the defense possible. Ben waa more the front. But John was the guy who did lots of the hard work behind the scenes. And he's seldom been mentioned in that connection. He had to leave Atlanta. His law practice was destroyed. I later knew him in Louisville, Kentucky. And another young lawyer was Dee Antiganque. I don't remember his first name. De Antiganque. A French name I guess. I saw him years later and he still, as far as I know, is in Atlanta. There were people who were interested, like Walton and the present mayor of Atlanta. Knew his father very well. And then there were several outstanding Negro ministers. The Wheat Street Baptist church had a minister that was very cooperative and very helpful. As I say, many black ministers, churches. Later, of course, it came out with Martin Luther King, the role that the churches were to play more significantly. But even then

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the black church was taking a great deal of responsibility and they had to do it under cover. It wasn't a thing to come out with. Because eventually… as I went to Atlanta to take over heading this committee there, our activities had to be underground. We had to meet secretly. We couldn't meet openly. We couldn't have people identified and so on. I remember, for example, we had a mimeograph machine and a typewriter and had no place to keep them. Connie and I had a little room in a basement. I mean it was a basement kind of place to live. On Georgia Avenue. Didn't have a lick of furniture. Had an old mattress on the floor and a dry goods box and a little old two eyed oil stove. And three of us lived there. No place to keep typewriters. Didn't even have a table to set it on. I'd been at school at Berry with a student who had become a lawyer. His name was Ansel Morrison. He may still live in Atlanta. He was a lawyer and he'd come to Ben Davis and had volunteered his legal assistance. So I was talking with him. I'd known him in school. We were talking about our problem. I said "You know, Ansel, we don't have a place to keep our typewriter and our mimeograph machine and our records in this Herndon case." Well he says "I have an apartment and you can use my apartment to keep all these things in. Just bring all your records, all your machinery and everything in there." Well, to make a long story short, Ansel was an agent. So he got all our stuff and turned them over to the police. He got our typewriter, mimeograph, all our records. See, I had experience with agents way, way back there. We lost everything we had. But that

Page 33
was the situation.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were whites involved in the defense?
DON WEST:
Oh my, yes. Goodness, the first meeting I went to in Atlanta, way out near the Atlanta penitentiary was with Walter E. Washburn. He's dead now. His wife is dead. But he was a working man. He and his wife, Leah Young and Annie May Young, Willie Leathers. My goodness, I can remember at least a dozen or more, local, white leaders. Local white workers. There's a cotton mill in Atlanta, Fulton Bag. I guess in Fulton Bag we had at least a dozen cotton mill workers who were involved in this. Now they were working there and god knows they couldn't work openly. They'd be fired if there was ever any suspicion. And a job was a life, you know, to them.
RAY FAHERTY:
Were they in something like the CP?
DON WEST:
They may have been. Some of them may have been. When this poor people's march was on in Washington a couple or so years ago with King. Longer than that now. Anyway, Charleston Gazette had, one day, a front page picture of an old lady, seventy something years old. The police had her by each arm on each side and were dragging her to a paddy wagon. It was Leah Young. I said "My god, there's Leah. She's being dragged to the paddy wagon in Washington by a couple of police men." Seventy-seven years old, I believe it was. She was a character. Her sisters and her mother were too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Nanny Washburn is still there, too.
DON WEST:
Yeah, I know. That's the one I'm talking about. Leah

Page 34
Washburn. Leah Young. Before she married. Before she married Walter. Walter Washburn was married to another woman who died and later he married Leah. They were very close friends. They moved out to Douglassville and bought a little farm. We lived out at Douglassville then and we were close neighbors years later.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Let me ask you about your feeling about Highlander. You'd been there a year when you left to move to Atlanta. You had wanted for a long time to start a folk school like Highlander. What convinced you to leave so quickly? Did you think that Highlander was not doing the kind of work that you—
DON WEST:
I was disillusioned with what I would be able to do under the circumstances. It's a little difficult to say without seeming to be, I don't know, vindictive or something. I guess Horton and I just had a different way of looking at things. For example, the first year. I went up to Palmer. Palmer was a coal mining village that had a lot of unemployed. And I organized classes in Palmer for poor coal miner people. And in Tracy City. And… I don't remember the name of that little town. A lot of coal mine people. And these were poor, raggedy people. And sometimes they'd come into Highlander, into the center. And Miles would see one of them. "Oh, that's one of Don's friends." You know. They were just poor, ragged, uneducated people. Well, these were the people that I was concerned about, that I've always been concerned about. His friends were, you know, a little higher status, I guess.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, what kind of people did Highlander want to bring

Page 35
into its workshops?
DON WEST:
Well, maybe we had a different concept. I wanted people who were the working people, the poor people. Later, of course, Highlander got the CIO, lots of CIO people there. And the FTA and the different CIO unions held schools there and later, of course, Martin Luther King.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of people did Miles want to bring in?
DON WEST:
I really don't know. I don't know just what it was. But it revolved around one being more to the left that the other more to the right. It revolved around that kind of thing. I remember I recruited a student, Walter Martin, his name was, from Alabama. And man, he was a way out to the left. I mean he became way out to the left. Of course he was not very popular with Miles. He went back to Birmingham and was quite active down there for a long time. I lost touch with him. There was a black man, Hosea Hudson, wrote a book called Black Workers in the Deep South. He came down to speak for me. He's coming down again this spring. To speak to my Antioch class. And we'll have a big community meeting, as we did last time. I had a hundred some people come out. When he came down I introduced him and he was saying "You know,"—to my class and the people who had come—" I knew Don forty years ago." It was about forty years ago to the day when he came. And he says "When I first knew Don I couldn't read and write. And I have to say that Don West taught me how to read and write." I did. I taught Hosea to read and write. He was illiterate. And now he's

Page 36
written this book Black Workers. He told another story to the class that I had forgotten about entirely. Hosea, Wert Taylor and two other black kids, and myself, were coming from New York City going to Atlanta. We were driving an automobile which belonged to a young man who was in New York City. We were going to drive his car to Birmingham. I was driving. About one o'clock in the morning we were passing through Philadelphia. We were arrested. We had a lot of literature, political stuff, in our bags. They searched our bags and all night long they took us from one station to another, photographing us, putting numbers on us and so on. And they kept us the balance of the night in a little cased in pen. They didn't turn us loose the next day. They kept us there…. I guess they must have kept us a couple of weeks. I thought we never were going to get out. And finally…. There was a fur workers union strike on and there was a union man in there that was going out. He'd been in, you know, for something, and they were letting him out. I talked with him and said "can you go and see" I told him who he might see. A defense worker that worked on defense. "And tell him that we're in here and we'd like to have some help." So finally a lawyer did find out about us and came in and we had a hearing before a judge. So Hosea was saying they got us all out there. There were six of us. And he said Don was the ringleader. They had searched his bag…. See, when they asked me what I did, what I was, I said I was a minister. I'm an ordained minister. And the judge said "You're a minister." I said yes. He had all the stuff he'd taken out of my

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bag. And I had a lot of Marxist literature and so on. He looked at all the other boys, Hosea said, and says "You're a minister and these are your gospel and these are your goddamn disciples." I'd forgotten that, but Hosea told that story down in my class. They were about half black and half white, you know, in the group.
JACQUELYN HALL:
As you moved to the left in this period, did you consider yourself a Christian?
DON WEST:
Always have. Do you have my sermon called "Jesus, the Quiet Revolutionary"? I'll give you a copy. Don't have one with me. It was printed. Yes. I've always felt that Jesus was with the working class, always. I think he was with the poor people. I learned this, as I said, even before I went to college. My grandfather had influenced me a lot on this. I was speaking over at Marshall University a couple of years ago in West Virginia. And there's an old gal there that has a radio program. The day before I was to be there she was on a program. She was just giving me hell. She was saying that Don West is coming to speak at Marshall University. He's the most dangerous man in West Virginia. She went on to talk about… Herbert Aptheker had been down and spoken three or four weeks before. It was bad enough for Herbert Aptheker to speak, but he's going back to New York. Don West is here in West Virginia. Most dangerous man. I spoke in one auditorium and then that evening we had a poetry reading. One of my student friends came up and said that "Your friend, Mrs. Payne, is in the audience tonight. I thought you'd like to know." I said "Good." As I opened up the meeting I mentioned that I'd been called a lot of things, dangerous,

Page 38
and so forth and so on. I'd never seen fit to defend myself and I was not going to defend, but if I'm radical or if I'm dangerous or all these things, I came by it naturally. It's no fetched on thing. I first began to get it from my old mountain grandfather. This is not something that was brought in from the outside. And I got it from my study of the Christian gospel. So after the meeting the old gal came up and we had quite a talk.
RAY FAHERTY:
This kind of blending of Christian socialism and so on, was that true of people like Claude Williams as well?
DON WEST:
Yes, oh yes. Claude is working on something now. He's trying to vindicate his belief that there was an underground revolutionary movement. That the early Christian movement was an underground revolutionary thing of the poor people. He sent me a paper the other day in which he's writing about that kind of thing. Now Claude was later president of Commonwealth College. It was at Mena, Arkansas, and it was a labor school. It tried to educate sharecroppers' leaders and union leaders. Commonwealth College, yeah. My wife taught there. She taught labor history there one time. I believe Claude was director when she was there. Claude told me once that Highlander made a request that Commonwealth and Highlander join together in their appeal for funds. And Claude, while he directed Commonwealth, he went ahead and did that. And Claude told me that when Highlander got the mailing list, there were certain ones picked out and mailed special letters, red-baiting Commonwealth. Claude Williams is no liar. This is just one of the ugly things that's in history. I don't like to

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talk about it. I wouldn't talk about it publicly.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But the strange thing about it is that people on the left who are red-baiting other people on the left were being red-baited themselves. It's very selfdefeating.
DON WEST:
That's true, but I think…. Well, take for example in Atlanta, Georgia. You remember that great, progressive editor Ralph McGill? The Constitution. Somewhere in my files I did have, oh my goodness, more than a couple dozen columns by Ralph McGill attacking me personally. Calling me a red. Red-baiting me. He had been red-baited because he was a little bit progressive. And I think he thought, perhaps, now if I red-bait somebody else that will clean my skirts, you know. It's an erroneous thing, as far as I'm concerned, and it never works, but maybe that's the way they think. That we'll clear ourselves by pointing the finger at somebody else.
RAY FAHERTY:
Was there a period in the 'thirties, though, like with the workers alliance, in which there was any kind of united front?
DON WEST:
There was a good period of united front. The workers alliance, which you mentioned. David Lasser was the SP. He was national president. Herbert Benjamin, I believe one of the letters I gave you last night I was writing to Herbert Benjamin. He was a CP. And this was the kind of front. Part CP, part SP, but worked together very closely. And for all ostensible purposes it was a united thing. Of course there were those who realized that there was some differences, you know. But it served to weld together a very much stronger organization as a result of getting together like that. David

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Lasser. I knew him very well. He worked very cooperatively. And I knew Benjamin very well, too. Sad thing. I came through Washington a few years ago. I'd heard that Herb Benjamin was there and I looked him up in the phone book and called him up. Told him who I was. I'd known him very well back in the 'thirties. He said "You know, I don't want to be reminded of anything that happened in the 'thirties. I have no recollections of it. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to see you." Just like that. That's happened to lots of people. You probably know about that. People who put their lives on the line. I don't know what happened. They became bitter or something. Disillusioned. And they don't even want to think about it. So it made me sad because I'd known him at that time he was a dedicated person, very much. Another man I knew. The one I drove the car down to Birmingham and was arrested in Philadelphia. Then he was a militant left winger. Years later I was in New York and I wanted to go see him. I was in an apartment house on Riverside Drive and my hostess that evening said "You know who owns this house? Well, it's your old friend so and so." I said "I'll have to go see him." So I went to see him. And he didn't want to talk, didn't want any memories of the past at all. My hostess says "He owns a half dozen other apartment houses like this."
JACQUELYN HALL:
How long were you in Atlanta working on the Angelo Herndon case?
DON WEST:
It was nearly two years, I guess. "33'34. We left there and came over here in '34. These papers, I think, that you've got are

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dated 1934. I said last night that the US Supreme Court invalidated the Georgia law, pre-civil war law, against slave uprisings and so Herndon was set free. He spent about two years in Fulton Tower. As we were saying, there were some professors. Evans, over at Emory University. Mercer Evans. White institution, of course. And Evans was a good worker for the Herndon defense. Excellent. Several students at Emory University. I don't recall their names. Were on the defense committee. And at Georgia Tech. During that period I knew Vann Woodward very well. Vann Woodward and Homer Rainey. Homer Rainey was at Tech, too. They both made contributions and so on and so forth. I knew Vann, too, when he was here at Carolina. He made contributions to this Burlington thing. And of course I knew him at Yale and Johns Hopkins later.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How does he look back on that period of his life?
DON WEST:
He isn't bitter or anything, but I guess he's sort of gone beyond. I don't think he has much hope. He's just lost himself in history. Has done some very good history, though. Some very excellent stuff. I've always respected him very, very much.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you get any help from people like Will Alexander of the Inter-racial Commission?
DON WEST:
Will Alexander and Robert Eleazer. I knew them very well. When I was at Vanderbilt and the YMCA graduate school I was sort of their protege, too, you know. They were, in a way, out in the front because they dared to talk about race problems. But no, they went the other way. They wouldn't have anything to do with anything that was to

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the left of center, I guess. Just as the Southern Regional Council doesn't seem to be too…. I don't know what their attitude is toward Southern Exposure or anything. But Southern Exposure is much better than what they put out.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You came to North Carolina because of the Burlington case?
DON WEST:
Let me finish just a little more about Georgia. We had some farmer support. I was trying to remember… out of Stone Mountain there was a farmer, just a small farmer. Emory Fields.
I've been to his home lots of times. He was actually right by Herndon's side when Herndon was leading this group up to the mayor's office. He has told me numbers of times "I should have been arrested instead of Herndon. But they arrested Herndon because he was black. They thought they could get by with it." He was a native Georgian. His name was Emory Fields.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is he still living?
DON WEST:
I guess he's dead now. I haven't seen him in forty years. He was pretty middle aged then. But he had children, a wife and family that were all dedicated. And so there were farmers, there were white students, there were black students, there were attorneys, three attorneys— Mack, Ben Davis and John Gear—all working on that thing. And numbers of white cotton mill workers. And black ministers. Just before the Supreme Court made its decision to free Herndon. it got so that the cops, the police, were getting very vigilent. They were watching everything that went on. Almost impossible to move without their being on you. And it got so that I could hardly move around.

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Actually, you see, as I've tried to say, we were underground. I din't even carry my own name and where I was living I didn't live under my name because, you know, it was an underground situation. I rented this apartment under a pen name, an assumed name.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But when you worked with people like Mercer Evans, did they know you by your real name?
DON WEST:
Not always. Many people that I've worked with wouldn't now know me. I've lived under half a dozen different names. I get a little aside here, but a couple of years ago I had trouble with the IRS. I guess I was on Nixon's enemy list. See, Connie and I started the folk life center over at Pipestem. We saved money. One of our salaries we saved for ten years and lived on the other. We got pretty good salaries. [unknown]. So we had a nice little piece of money. We bought 600 acres of land. We started building buildings and started a program. Out of our own funds. And then we got some donations. We were just doing it then. We hadn't incorporated you see. So the IRS came in and they held me responsible for personal income for every dollar that had been donated to go into the program. We had 125 kids there! So I had to dig up, from my own personal funds, $4,000. And they came in one night at midnight. Couple of secret service. He flashed his card. He was with the secret service. "Well, what do you want?" They wanted to question me on my tax. They took me over to Princeton to the jail. They were going to put me in jail overnight, you know, like I was some kind of a desperado might run away. It just happened that the sheriff over there was a good friend of mine

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and it didn't work. He said he'd be responsible. We had an interview then. Wanted to talk. They were going to tape it, just like you're taping here. And the first thing he said—this was the secret service man—"Hold up your hand. Take an oath." I said "Now wait a minute, this is a discussion about tax problems. I'm not in any court and I'm not about to take an oath." Well then, "we're going to record it." I said "Okay, I don't mind you recording it. I haven't anything to cover up." And the first question he asked was "Have you ever lived under another name?" I said "What does this have to do with my taxes for 1972?" And I said "In the first place, I know that you know more about me than I remember. Because you've got the whole record." See, they knew about all these things because they've always kept those records. That was necessary back in that period. You couldn't be open with it. We printed handbills and papers and distributed them, very quietly and very secretly. I remember, just about the week before I left there I went to visit one of our workers on the committee. He was a well known black minister over in the black community in the west side of town—not Auburn Avenue section—Hunter Street, down in that area. I'd no more than gotten into the living room and we sat down to talk and the wife looked out the window and coming up the walk were half a dozen cops. "Oh my gosh," she said, "here are the police." She grabbed me and took me into the kitchen and raised up a trap door. "Get down there right quick." I went under and she threw a rug over it. But they searched the whole house. They were searching for me, see. They had a warrant for me. They searched the house and didn't find a thing. They left and

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then of course I got out. It got so that it looked like I was always just one jump ahead of them. I didn't want to be taken in then, of course. So one night Ben Davis says "I tell you what we'd better do." We had our committee together and he proposed that he take me out of town. He put me in his car. Put some old quilts and things over me in the back seat. He drove me out to Decatur. Then you could flag a bus anywhere on the road and get a ride. So I flagged a bus for a conference in New York. Shortly after that, of course, Herndon was freed. And then the Burlington thing came up in '34. I came over here and was in charge of this committee for—I think it took us about a year before we got this case settled over here.
RAY FAHERTY:
Was this before or while you were state organizer of the Workers Alliance and all that?
DON WEST:
That came later in Kentucky. I went from here to Kentucky.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You stayed here for like a year. Did you work on anything else while you were here?
DON WEST:
No, the defense work was the chief thing. Getting people here… getting people like Paul Green, Bill Couch, J.O. Bailey, Loretta Bailey, E. E. Ericson, Frank Graham. There was a lot of people here who were concerned about that kind of thing. Lot of students here. Vann Woodward was here then, as I said. He was a grad student here, I guess.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Any other people besides those you named that you worked with in North Carolina? I'm interested in locating people, especially in North Carolina, who were active….

Page 46
DON WEST:
Well, there were other people. A lot of cotton mill workers around Graham. For the life of me I don't remember all their names now. I remember one other student here. Bill Levitt. He wouldn't be here now. He later became the educational director for the auto workers union. He was just like a little puppy, after me all the time, with me all the time. He was a student, you know, and he'd come over to Burlington and stay all night with us. Every meeting we'd go to, Bill wanted to be in it. I think he's producing movies now in New York.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did Olive Stone come here and work… ?
DON WEST:
Yes, Olive Stone was around here. I don't recall whether it was just then. She was around later, I know. During that period… yes, she did have something to do with that defense work.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How had you known her before?
DON WEST:
I don't remember. You meet a lot of people, you know, that you don't remember exactly, looking back at it, that the first time was. I had known her before here, though. Maybe in Atlanta. So here in the Burlington thing we had these cotton mill workers that were framed up. And it was proven that they had been framed up. And they were set free. The main character there was John Anderson. I don't suppose any of them would be living now. John was middle aged then. I guess they're dead.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Some of them were fairly young.
DON WEST:
They might be around. Lots of them were blacklisted. There's a man that lived in a little cotton mill town out of Burlington somewhere. He was one of the best workers we had. A white cotton mill

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worker. Doggone I forget his name. Walt Pickard But he was an awfully committed and dedicated and sacrificing fellow. That was the thing about these people. These people who got to be convicted of leftist convictions. It was unbelievable what they'd do. They would just work all night or sacrifice themselves in an unlimited way.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were women who worked in the mill there active?
DON WEST:
Oh, quite a few of them, yes, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were they in the leadership? How would you compare the roles of men and women?
DON WEST:
Well, in different places it would be different. Now in Atlanta I would say that women predominated locally in the leadership. The youngs and the Washburns and so on. Here, John Anderson's wife was a very strong character and a very good type of leader. She was quite good here. And Walt Picard's wife. I think Walt Picard will be named in some of those papers. He was a local cotton mill worker. We wrote a pamphlet under Walt Picard's name. I thought I had that pamphlet and I looked for it. It was printed. About a thirty page pamphlet. I think you might could use it. It was called the Burlington Dynamite Plot. We wrote it under Walt's name. I did an introduction for it. I really did much of the pamphlet. It would have been mixed. Quite a few women, cotton mill women. Then from here I went over to my wife's home in east Kentucky. I worked in the coal mines some over there. It was a pretty rugged kind of existence. There were no jobs in that period, you know. You just sort of shifted around trying to do things that you wanted to do when you're working… whenever there was something

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that got started, like any kind of an organization…. If you could get something started, why it was all to the good. And in Kentucky that's where I knew Molly Jackson and Jim Garland. People like that. I guess Jim Garland's home was the first place I went in Kentucky. He lived there near Pineville. Kettle Island, Bell County. He was an unemployed coal miner who had been active in the miners union. See, I'd known the miners union while there at LMU in '29. They were active in MU, National Miners Union. I've always thought that the National Miners Union had a lot to do with setting the quality of attitude on the race issue. I don't quite go along with the Guardian and some of the left wing publications who are so critical right now of the miners union leadership on the issue of racism. I don't quite see it. Some of them have raised this as the main issue, the main thing that the miners union leadership is a racist leadership. I can't quite see that. I don't think Arnold Miller is. Arnold is not the greatest leader in the world maybe. But I just don't think that Arnold Miller is a racist. Now there are racists everywhere, you know, as I se it. But I think these people are working against that. And in the miners union there has never been a rampant kind of exclusive attitude toward the black people. The NMU came in. It had a one hundred percent policy of absolutely no discrimination. And I think when the NMU was beaten out and beaten down that this attitude, this policy, influenced the later development of the United Mine Workers in the area. For example, in McDowell County, right down below us in West Virginia, we have an old miner who mined thirty-three years. He's on our staff at Pipestem.

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A member of our board. He tells about for two years in his life he had to hide out. He was an organizer in McDowell County and he had to skip around like a criminal. But he said when they got their first local organized in McDowell County there were a few blacks there. See in McDowell County in 1850 there was not a single black person. They had no slaves. But now its the greatest per capita black of any part of West Virginia. Because they brought in blacks as scabs and strikebreakers. But the white miners, in McDowell, in those coal mines, they have worked, talked to the black men, and got them to see, you know, the necessity for unity and cooperation. And the first local of the Miner Workers union that was set up in McDowell County elected a black man as president. The majority of the local were whites, but they elected a black man. I said to Burl Collins "Why did you do that?" "Well, we thought he was better qualified for the job." So this thing that the miners union is a racist union, I just don't think is quite right. I don't mean to say there's no racism, because there is. But it's not the ugly kind of thing.
RAY FAHERTY:
When you were in east Kentucky, was there any friction between the two unions at that point or between political groups like the SP?
DON WEST:
Eastern Kentucky… when the National Miners Union was defeated there it was just completely wiped out, so to speak. That happened when I was a student over at LMU. I'd gone over and gotten acquainted with what they were doing. And this was part of the influence that later caused me to become more to the left, I guess.

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Because I'd seen what quality they had there. Drieser had been down. You know, he brought students down. Waldo Frank and so on. No, the two unions didn't exist simultaneously there. I know what's his name wrote a book—Hell in Harlan—in which he red-baits the NMU a lot. He was one of those that was involved in this murder of Yablonski. Tittler.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were working in the mines. Did you have some formal relationship with the United Mine Workers?
DON WEST:
There weren't any United Mine Workers then, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well what was going on?
DON WEST:
Practically nothing was going on. It was some of us who would like to get something going on. There was one man—I don't know whether I put a letter in that thing from Norman Link. Norman Link was a local coal miner, native Kentucky miner. He had been involved with the National Miners Union, see. Jim Garland was not active then, but Jim was there. And there were Silas Burge…. There were numbers of native Kentucky coal miners who wanted something to get going. And we were just trying to get something started. That was the end of 1934, after I left here, you see. There were little sprinklings of organization beginning among unemployed miners and unemployed people. The WPA was a thing that was to be. At Corbin. I don't remember what they called it. A bunch of unemployed people got organized at Corbin. And up at Lexington there was the Wage Earners Inc, an organization of unemployed and poor people. They incorporated themselves. Over at Paintsville was the Unemployed League. That was a Trotskyist sponsored thing. Trotskyite party. Arnold Johnson. He was the leader. He was with the

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Trotsky party with what's his name, this great peace fighter that died—A.J. Muste. Arnold had been with Muste and I knew Arnold very well then. He helped to get together the Unemployed League and in one or two places there was the unemployed council, the workers alliance. The workers alliance was SP. What was the CP? The unemployed council? I guess it was. And the league was the Trotsky group. And then there were several, like Wage Earners, Inc., that had no political orientation at all. No connection. In Corbin and over at Paducah and in Louisville. Lots of little spontaneous groups that got together. Our effort, all over the country but Kentucky illustrates the general thing, the effort was to get all these small beginnings together and form one big organization. Which we were able to do. And we had the workers alliance. As I say, it was a cooperatively led thing. SP, CP and what ever the Trotskyist group had. So it became the main organization. I gave you one of those little song books that had our demands. It sort of makes you smile to see how modest our demands were. That's a little song book we got out during that period. A vest pocket size song book. And the demands on the back page were just almost unbelievable, now. But we had none of that, you see. We had nothing.
RAY FAHERTY:
And the workers alliance organized marches, like to the state capital.
DON WEST:
Yeah, to state capital. We had our state—
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were you living exactly when you got involved with the workers alliance?

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DON WEST:
We were living on Greasy Creek in Bell County. That was the time when Connie and I were arrested and taken to Pineville Jail. Let me see, now, how did that happen? We were living on Greasy Creek and I was working over at Kajay in a coal mine. There was a big mine over there. There was a general miner strike going on throughout a lot of the coal fields. And the big mine at Kajay had not come out. Three of us decided that we would go in and get jobs as scabs. You see, then you couldn't go to a miner's home, even on a week end, go to a home and talk with him. You wouldn't be in the house more than three or four minutes and there would be a knock on the door and someone would be there: "What you doing there, buddy? You don't live here. You get back where you belong?" Three miners couldn't meet on the street corner, stop and talk, exchange the time of day. They would be broken up by the gun thugs, you see. So, the only chance we had to really talk with people was to slip around and do it secretly or, we thought, now if we get a job in there we can talk with those men on the job. So three of us went in and got jobs. They were hiring people because some of them had come out and the others weren't. So we went in. Didn't take us long. A few weeks before we pulled the whole mine out. And the day after that happened we were coming home, about dark. We lived up on old Greasy Creek in a miner's shack. Two rooms. Had a baby. Our older daughter was just about two years old. We'd just gotten in the house when suddenly at this door and this window and all there was an officer with a six shooter, just like a bunch of desperados were being taken, you know. Arrested. And they piled all my books and

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papers and everything into some trunks and boxes we had and took them along with us, down to the court house. They confiscated my books and my total library and they put us in jail. Accused me of conspiring to overthrow the government by use of the churches. I was a preacher, you know. Eventually I spent about six weeks. I was taken out, given a trial. I defended myself. And they put me under $5,000 peace bond. Actually, one of the three people who went in there was the one who swore out the warrant for me. He was a stooge, you see. So, as I say, I've had experience with stooges. I mentioned this Ansel Morrison. I mentioned later Paul Crouch. So I was put under $5,000 peace bond. Just before we were arrested I had left my car in a garage to have a little repair work done. And when we got out of jail the judge's stipulation was that I should leave Kentucky, that I shouldn't be around there. Immediately when we got out, when we were released, we got in the car and started over the Cumberland Gap to the Tennessee border. We wanted to get over in Tennessee where Kentucky couldn't pick us up. On this mountain road suddenly flammmm, a wheel went off. All four of those darn wheels ran off of that thing. The nuts were just barely on there, you know, and on this mountain road I imagine they thought we would be quick to get out and wreck the car, but it just didn't. But here we were, flat on the road. That was an experience. We finally got it fixed and got over the Cumberland Gap. Then I went to another part of Kentucky. I went under… George Brown golly, what was the name? Had so many names I don't remember.
Anyway, Allan McElfhesh is writing the story of the workers alliance and he mentioned the name that I used there.

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He explained why I used it. Because I had the peace bond, they would have arrested Don West. But I could go under… I think it was John Hart or something. He sent a copy of his manuscript to me to look over and get my corrections.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is it going to be published?
DON WEST:
I hope so. I'm encouraging him to get it…. I'm going to help him to edit it and all and maybe the Appalachian Press will publish it. It was after that.
I went into Lexington once. There was a meeting being held by the wage earners' incorporated. And I went in and just, from the floor, made a speech. You know, I'd been over in east Kentucky and I made this speech. I was totally unknown. Allan describes that later in his writing. I got acquainted then and then we began to work on getting a big representation in Kentucky workers alliance. We affiliated, of course, with the national. We had our state convention. Must have been '36. We had it in Frankfurt. We wanted to go see the governor. We wanted work. There was no direct relief then, no welfare. If you were unemployed and had kids they just went hungry unless some of your friends or kinfolks could spare a few scraps. The Kentucky legislature had not done anything about this situation. So we wanted to put a little pressure on the legislature and the governor to do something about it. And we went to the state capital. We took a delegation over to the capital, to the governor's office. And they told us that the governor was not in town, that he was over in Indiana making a speech for Roosevelt. And while we were there parleying a black, some kind of a servant or some worker around

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that place, came up and whispered to one of our members that "They're giving you the run around. I saw the governor just a few minutes ago over at the mansion." This fellow came up and told me this. I said Now wait a minute, I understand that you are misinforming us, that the governor is not in Indiana but he's right here in this town." "Oh no, no. He's over in Indiana making a speech for Roosevelt." Well, I said "We're going over to the mansion." So we went over there and got all our people up on the lawn and up on the front steps. We knocked on the door. And a black servant came to the door. We said we'd like to see Gov. Chandler, A.B. Chandler. He said, well he was sorry but the governor was out of town. I said "We don't believe this is true. We have been told that he's right here in the mansion." He turned around and went back in and just two or three minutes later he came back and said "The governor is indisposed and can't see you." I said "Now wait a minute. You go tell the governor that there are several hundred Kentuckians out here and we're going to stay right here on this lawn and on this front porch until he gets disposed to see us." In a few minutes here comes the governor and his wife. And man, we had a parley. It was something. She was a tough talking woman. Allan McElfhesh was crippled. He doesn't have any legs now, but he walked on crutches then. I remember she called him a little crippled s.o.b. She was awfully rough. He was sharp as a briar and he asked a lot of questions. She got upset and just really cursed him out. We had this kind of thing. Demonstrations in Louisville, over in Paintsville, over at the WPA offices you know. And out of all of it we finally made some

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definite gains. We got the Kentucky alliance wages raised equal to the others, you know, above the Mason-Dixon line.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that a direct result of the pressure that you put on?
DON WEST:
It was a direct result of the pressure we put on and others were putting on. See, there was a workers' alliance in Atlanta, Georgia, and in…. It was a pretty big organization. And all over that demand was one of the demands. Pointing out how ridiculous that the same hours, from the same sources, there should be this discrimination. It was partly discrimination against black people, but mainly against poor whites, too. Because there were more poor whites than poor blacks. This is a thing that a lot of people haven't realized. That in the South there always have been more poor whites than poor blacks. Poor white… the onus has been put on him, you know, as being the main culprit.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So how long were you….
DON WEST:
I was there in Kentucky…. They elected me to state organizer of the workers alliance. Giles Cooper was president. Allan McElfhesh was executive secretary. I have some pictures in here of some of the black people who were leaders in the organization. It was completely integrated. No discrimination whatever. And the demands we made were that WPA should have no discrimination on colored and so on. I did lots of getting around over the state. Paintsville. I remember once I was scheduled to make a speech in the courthouse at Paintsville and I got there and the sheriff arrested me and put me in jail. I'd been in there a little while and I hear some people out talking. I

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looked out and here were a bunch of workers coming down the street. They had a confab with the sheriff and said "West is scheduled to speak here in the courthouse tonight."
I remember Frank Daniels…. Frank later became sheriff there himself. I think Frank Daniels was the sharpest eyed man I ever saw and I don't reckon I ever saw him that he didn't have a sixshooter on him. This is a characteristic of a lot of east Kentucky people. I think it was Frank that said "You're either going to let him out. He's scheduled to speak. You're either going to let him out or we're going to break the door down." So I was released and we had our meeting. But that was a pretty common thing. At Paintsville there was a man by the name of Trusty. Elihu Trusty. He lived in a little outlying section called Gobblers Nob. He was a holy roller preacher, fundamentalist preacher. But Elihu Trusty was one of the best union speakers I've ever seen and he was illiterate. He couldn't read and write, but he could really make a moving speech and he understood the issues, the purposes and principles of the union very well. I guess I've taken him on I don't know how many dozens of places just to speak. Because he could really inform the people and he did it in a way that they listened. Now I stayed at his home when I was in Paintsville area. He lived in a shack. In the room that I slept in I could actually—and I did—crawl through a crack in the wall. If I came in late I didn't have to open the front door and disturb Elihu and his family. I could crawl through a crack and go to bed on a corn shuck tick. A tick full of corn shucks. They didn't have rye straw, like we had down in Georgia. We always used

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rye straw for bed ticks. And for breakfast we would have bulldog gravy and biscuits. Bulldog gravy is made with lard with flour stirred in it and water poured in it and, you know, thickened up. And salt and biscuits and bulldog gravy. Elihu had several beautiful girls. Sadly, some of them became prostitutes because that's the only way they had of getting just a little bit of money. They were beautiful girls. They were gentle girls. But Paintsville… a hotel or two they could work in. We kept one of his daughters over in Louisville. Lived with us for a year or so. The last baby they had they named Mabel Don. It was a girl. They were going to name it after me. My wife's first name was Mabel. So they combined the two of us. Mabeldon. I have I don't know how many kids named after me in east Kentucky. It's sort of amusing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The United Mine Workers came back in to Harlan, Bell County in 1935 and started organizing. Were you there then?
DON WEST:
I was not there full time, no. I was in and out. I was then a full time organizer for the workers alliance. I covered some of Harlan and some of Bell. Letcher and other…. We had locals strung all through there. I remember Arnold Johnson came down. He made a speaking trip. Starting at the courthouse square in Lexington, going down through Bell and over through Letcher and over through Floyd. Holding open meetings. That was a period later…. I guess I must have been 36 or 37. Arnold was then with the CP, not with the Trotsky group. As I recall, the sentiment was so different from what it became later that they could speak openly as a CP representative and

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recruit members openly. Something like 300 east Kentucky men and women joined the CP. Since the War on Poverty I've run into several of these old people. I can tell one just by how they talk in a meeting. Their understanding is quickened and it's different. I remember Everett Thorpe. Hazard, Kentucky. The Appalachian committee for full employment. I remember the first time I heard him speak. I knew exactly where Everett got his understanding.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you do then?
DON WEST:
At the end of '37…. You see, we were getting close to the war then and the situation with the unemployed was healing up somewhat. The mills were starting back. And the mines and so on. I resigned my place there in '37 and made arrangements to go back to my home in Georgia. I got back with my church. I went back to my grandfather's farm near Cartersville, Atco. I took a church up in Bethel, Ohio, with the Congregational church, until about '40, I believe it was. And then I resigned and went down to south Georgia. I was transferred from there to a church in south Georgia. Meanville, Georgia. There was a paper organized over at Birmingham called the Southern News Almanac. I did a column and some editorials regular for the Southern News Almanac. I did a signed column under the title of the Awakening Church. And I wrote some pieces about cotton mill workers here in Greensboro and so on during that period.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who put out the Southern News Almanac?
DON WEST:
Bob Hall part of the time was editor. It was sort of a united front kind of thing. I wish I had a complete file of it because

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I did columns and I don't have my columns.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is your file of it anywhere?
DON WEST:
There would be one in the… the Jefferson Bookstar Shop in New York used to have it. I don't know. I sort of last track of it. Herbert Aptheker might know. I don't know. But they did have a complete file. It was finally ended in Birmingham. I pastered a church at Meansville. We had some interesting experiences there. The man who does the introduction to one of my books, Roy Smith, I met him there. He was a new man. He came in. His family moved in and I had to go visit. You know, it's a pastor's responsibility to visit new families. Roy was a supervisor on a WPA project. Roy was an atheist. He was an outspoken atheist. One of the most human, one of the most Christian men I have ever known. I went to visit him the first time. He had a sick kid, I heard. I knocked on the door and introduced myself as a preacher, the local minister. He says "I've got no goddamn use for preachers. I just want to let you know it right off. You can just go along." Right off I thought to myself my gosh, here's a man who has been thinking a little bit. I said "Now wait just a minute, brother, you and I may have more in common than you surmise." He was just about ready to kick me out. He says that in this introduction—about ready to kick me out. So I got acquainted with him and we talked and we became very close personal friends. I had a revival one summer and had about fifteen people baptized. I went to Roy one day and said "Roy, how about joining the church and letting me baptize you?" He said "Don, what in the hell do you want me to join that bunch of hypocrites for?" "So you

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can help me fight from the inside. I need some help in there." He thought about it a little while and then he agreed to let me baptize him and he joined the church.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were working with the American Peace Mobilization at that time?
DON WEST:
I was a pastor in a church full time then, but I wrote the column for the newspaper all the time. I resigned at Meensville. I had an ugly little incident. There was an old black man taken out one Saturday night and beaten up by a mob because he had brushed against some white ladies. He hadn't stepped out in the mud off the sidewalk. The report was that one of my leading deacons was the leader of the mob. So I resigned and never have pastored a church since then. I preached my sermon and took as the text "even as you have done it unto one of the least of these." Preached my sermon and resigned. I passed through there the other day as I came back from St. Petersburg just to recall old times. Then, after that, we came back to my grandfather's farm in north Georgia and lived there a while. I went out to Memphis and shipped out on a Mississippi River steamboat. Worked for a few months on the Mississippi. The FTA was having a convention in Memphis. The FTA was the food, agriculture and tobacco workers union. It was one of the left wing unions in the CIO. The boat docked there at Memphis and I got off and went up to the hall. Donald Henderson was the national president. I'd known Don. I went up to the hall and said "Don, I'd like to know what the chances of getting a job." I'd heard they needed some organizers. I'd like to get a job with the FTA. He said "Don,

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I'm sorry. You're too red for my union." I went on over to Georgia and got a job as a school superintendent under Eugene Talmadge in the state of Georgia. I was too red for Don Henderson's FTA. And that's where I got back into education. At Lula, Georgia, I was the superintendent of schools there for four years I believe it was. We attracted quite a lot of attention. We had a school that became sort of a community center. We helped organize farmer union locals. Had a cannery. A community work shop, this kind of thing. Aubrey Williams came down. After Aubrey was defeated for Rural Electrification director, you know, which Truman nominated him for, he came down and spent a week or so with us. He was then working with the farmers union. He got another job with them. From the farmers union he went to Montgomery and bought the Southern Farmer, with help from Marshall Field. For several years I did a feature story and editorials for Aubrey Williams. Had a million circulation. It had been just a regular nothing, you know. But Aubrey made it a magazine that really spoke and said something. When the Montgomery bus boycott began with Rosa Parks, Aubrey backed the boycott. And he was boycotted by his advertisers and printers. He had a million dollar printing plant there and he went bankrupt and went to Washington to die with cancer. I used to visit him up there when I was teaching at the University of Maryland. He loved the folk songs. Every time Hedy would come through town, he said don't let her miss coming over to sing for me. And she'd go over with me and she'd sing. He loved it. But he died there. There was a man that put his life on the line for

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what he believed in. And that was racial equality. When he died we had his funeral out in the Unitarian church. I guess there weren't over fifty or seventy-five people at the funeral and I think there were three black people at the funeral. I felt awfully sad at that funeral because here was a man that put his life on the line. As the director of NYA he had appointed Lyndon Johnson to his first important job, really, in Texas as Texas director of the NYA. When Aubrey came back to Washington he called Lyndon and Lyndon wouldn't even answer his call. Aubrey was, you know, too far to the left. Of course Eastland had had Aubrey before his committee. The same guy that had me, questioning my patriotism later on.
RAY FAHERTY:
I was trying to get the dates.
DON WEST:
Lula was '41, '42, '43 I guess. That period. From there I was given a Rosenwald fellowship. I had a letter once from the Rosenwald foundation saying would I be interested in taking time off to study. The school had been written up in Seventeen magazine. They had a dozen or two pictures and a story about our school at Lula. Another national magazine… several noted… Mrs. Roosevelt had made some very favorable comments and so on. So Rosenwald contacted me and gave me a scholarship fellowship to study. So I went to Chicago University, Columbia University and U. of GA. Did a year's study and came back to teach for the University of Georgia the summer after that year. I had an amusing experience teaching for the University of Georgia in summer school in north Georgia. I had three of the teachers whom I had gone to as a kid, to school in Georgia, who came

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back to take my class that summer. They were still going back to renew their certificates. They had never gotten a degree. It was a sort of amusing kind of experience. Then I took a job at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. I taught creative literature and a course in education. And in the summer time I directed the teachers program, teacher training school summer session. We started out with about thirty-five and in three years I built it up to 350 students. The last summer that I was there, the summer we had such a success, the president, Philip Weltner, said "Oh, you've done a wonderful job. You've got a job here as long as you want it." See, we didn't have tenure. In the fall, with the opening up of the school, the case of Rosa Lee Ingram came up. You know the story of Rosa Lee Ingram? A black woman in Georgia who, with her two kids, were sentenced to the electric chair because a white man came to their home trying to rape the mother. The kids, one of them only thirteen, got the white man's gun and shot him. So the whole three were sentenced to the chair. I was asked to speak in her defense at a public meeting. Which I did. It led, of course, to very drastic actions as far as my wife and I were concerned, our family. Rosa Lee Ingram and the two kids… we finally got the governor to commute their sentence to life imprisonment and a few years ago they were set free. But we got it pretty rough. I was fired at the University. My wife was fired. She was teaching in the county schools while I was teaching at the university. We had a farm, out on the Chattahoochee River. Our houses were burned. All my books and records were burned. See, in '48 the Ku Klux Klan was a potent factor. Stone Mountain was

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their demonstration place and they were strong in Atlanta. Now, of course, with a black mayor and a black Congressman and state representatives it's a different story. But in '48 the Klan was a factor there.
That was the period when everybody was quiet. And it was following all that, the burning and all, that Eastland subpeonaed me over to Memphis for investigation. Ralph McGill had been attacking me all through that period. Even after I left Georgia he was attacking me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did he first start doing that?
DON WEST:
It must have been in the 'forties, early 'forties.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did he attack you for?
DON WEST:
Well, he quoted one of my poems. I have a poem in Clods of Southern Earth: Listen, I'm an agitator. They call me red, the color of blood and bolshevik. And so on. And he would quote this and say "Look, he admits it." All of it was red-baiting. Some of them got burned, but I clipped all these things, keeping them for my grandkids to read. These things of his attack, you know. Because he was known—so many times I've been in New York and heard people refer to that progressive editor, Ralph McGill. I was emceeing a dinner for Julian Bond in the Roosevelt Hotel several years ago, for SCEF. And while we were sitting there Julian leaned over and says "Don, does anybody ever ask you about that progressive Ralph McGill in Atlanta?" I said yes, indeed they do. He says "I get so tired of that." McGill was not a progressive. He red-baited other people thinking it would clear his skirts, I think. Anyway, he made it rough. He was the one that I credit with being responsible for our houses being burned. Because he

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would write about me and say "He's out on the Chattahoochee River on Rt 166. We don't know what he's doing." For two summers I directed work camps for the Unitarian church, Unitarian Service Committee. Had one camp up in north Georgia. We have a place up there—which we still have. And had another one out at Douglassville, Georgia, on the river. McGill said "He's got a bunch of young people out there. We don't know what he's doing." But the implication was that it was a sinister sort of plot going on out there. Like we were going to revolutionize Georgia out on that farm. I had a five year agreement with the Unitarians for this camp. When the camp was being held at Douglass County, on the river, there were two officials from their national office there when the Atlanta Constitution had front page headlines attacking me. And he had his editorials in addition. This just scared the Unitarians to death and they withdrew their agreement. So, as I've often said, I've always liked the way Unitarians talk, not always the way they act.
RAY FAHERTY:
This is roughly the same time as the Progressive Party campaign.
DON WEST:
Yeah, and that's an interesting phase and development there. The Progressive party got going in Georgia. We had a state Progressive party. We had a mountain preacher, Rev. Charlie Pratt from up at Dalton, Georgia. And a black editor from south Georgia as co-chairmen of the Georgia Progressive party. The mountain preacher was a white mountaineer. The black man, of course, from south Georgia. Larkin Marshall and Charlie Pratt. I was the guy that sort of engineered working this out. Because I knew them both very well. And when we

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were getting the state convention together I proposed that we have a black and a white co-chairmen, see, because we wanted to represent the hill people and the poor blacks. That worked out. Henry Wallace came down during that period and made a speech in the Dalton chruch of Charlie Pratt. It was the biggest gathering of poor whites that Henry Wallace addressed anywhere, anywhere. That church was packed. It had a seating capacity of four to five thousand and they had loud speakers on all four corners and for a block around it people were out in the streets listening. They just poured into there to hear Henry Wallace. During that period I had some very ugly experiences. Ralph McGill was attacking me. He smeared the Progressive party with me, see. I was a red and he was convinced the Progressive party was red. The ironical thing to me, of course, was that at the same time I was being attacked by the district organizer of the communist party in Atlanta. It was a sort of betwixt the devil and the deep blue sea sort of situation. His name was Homer Chase and he was the DO for Georgia for the CP. If I ever knew anybody that was a Stalin or a dictator, it was Homer Chase.
RAY FAHERTY:
What was he attacking you for?
DON WEST:
I was elected state executive secretary of the Progressive Party while I was still at Oglethorpe. And they had an office down-town. I went in one morning to the office. The secretary was there and on the table was a lot of literature of Floyd Hunter. Here was campaign literature. Floyd Hunter, a nominee for Congress in Atlanta, on the Progressive Party's ticket. In the state executive committee of the Progressive party the agreement was that any candidate must be

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nominated by the state committee. But he had never been mentioned, you see. And I said to the secretary "What in the world is this? The state committee has not nominated this man for this office?" Well, she said Homer brought these in. I says "Homer has no right to do this. The CP and the Progressive party are two different things." "Well, Homer brought them in. He said you was to get them out." I said it won't do. I knew what would happen. I knew that Charlie Pratt and Larkin Marshall would not accept it. They were just common, ordinary people. They were not political anyway, you see, and I knew that they would kick about it. I had to kick before them in order to keep unity. I mean to get them to understand it. So this started Homer on my back. I was a red-baiter. Here I objected to this thing. And it was the kind of thing that some of the CP leaders made serious mistakes about. They took action and didn't even consult the Progressive party. Chase was later expelled from the CP and now, as I understand it, he's putting out a little sheet attacking the CP. But I never had such vicious attacks. He even spread the word that he had expelled me from the communist party. I wasn't a member of the communist party. But he spread it around that he had expelled me from the communist party. It was in order to discredit me.
RAY FAHERTY:
Had you ever been a member in the 'thirties?
DON WEST:
Uh, I worked very closely. I have never been a card carrying, dues paying member of the communist party. That I can say definitely. But I have worked closely with people whom I knew to be communist. And I would never red-bait. I didn't red-bait about Chase.

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But I was in that squeeze of being attacked by the head of the communist party and by Ralph McGill as being a communist. For example, in the state of Georgia the executive committee of the Progressive party elected me as a delegate to the Philadelphia convention of the Progressive Party in '48. I went. But before I went there was a second meeting of the state committee in Georgia and I was not able to go. Some of my university duties held me back, or something. Anyway, Chase sent his man in to the state convention, or the state committee in Georgia, trying to get them to rescind their election of me as a delegate. And then he sent me personally word warning me not to be a delegate, not to go as a delegate of the Progressive Party. And I simply said I've been elected by the party and I'm following the democratic procedure and so on that we've outlined in our constitution. So I went to Philadelphia and when I got up there he sent one of his men in. And he says "For the second time Homer is warning you not to act as a delegate here in Philadelphia in this convention." And again, I said the same thing. That I had been elected by the members and that's what I was going to do until the Progressive Party's committee had made its own decision. So I had an awfully ugly experience there with that guy.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you work with Floyd Hunter? Was he involved with the Progressive party?
DON WEST:
Floyd Hunter? Sure, he was one of Homer's boys. He wrote later—I never did get to read all of his books—but he wrote something, I understand, based on his studies around Atlanta. Floyd was a left winger. I can say, now that it doesn't harm him. I didn't agree with what he did there. I think he was innocent about it. Homer just

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pulled him in. But he was nominated by Homer to be a candidate for Congress. And that's where he got started. He said I was red-baiting because I objected to what he had done. At Philadelphia the keynote address was made by a black man by the name of Howard. I'm now a national trustee of Antioch College over at Yellow Springs. And the last board meeting over there, I was staying in the same hotel with Judge Joseph Howard of Baltimore. Federal judge. We got to talking and I said "Joe, I knew a man by the name of Howard back in 1948. He made a speech at the national convention of the Progressive party." He says "That was my father." The son of that Howard is now federal judge in Baltimore.
JACQUELYN HALL:
We're going to have to wind up. I have a couple of just specific questions. Did you know Hardy Scott? What do you remember about him?
DON WEST:
He lived on our farm for a year. Came out and lived in one of our houses that later got burned. Had his garden and worked.
JACQUELYN HALL:
We did an interview with John Russell of the fur workers. He talked about that you had had a lot of influence on Hardy Scott. He'd been kind of a protege of yours.
DON WEST:
Yeah. He went to Alabama last I heard. His wife's folks live in Alabama.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is Hardy Scott still around?
DON WEST:
As far as I know, he's down somewhere in Opilacha or somewhere down that way in Alabama. He was living out on a little farm when I visited him down there after he moved away from our place. He had a

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lot of problems, of course. His family and his wife. Problem making a living. Yeah, I knew Hardy very well.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he an organizer for the [unknown] workers?
DON WEST:
He was for a while, working around Asheville with Russell.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you work with the [unknown] workers?
DON WEST:
No. I just knew Russell. He and Russell had a lot of differences. And Hardy left under protest or something. I don't know. It was personal stuff as far as I know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were called before HUAC in the 'fifties?
DON WEST:
I was '58, I believe, that HUAC called me to Atlanta. I mentioned, you know, that my wife had been in a very serious wreck in Kentucky. She'd been a delegate to the national teachers convention in Cleveland and a big truck rammed into the back of the car and nearly killed her. Knocked her out, busted her skull. She wasn't expected to live. And I was there in the hospital with her when the subpeona came. I couldn't get excused. They demanded that I come back to Georgia from Louisville, Kentucky, which I, of course, did. That was '58. And the Atlanta papers took the occasion to write me up in big headlines and so on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that testimony available someplace? What committee?
DON WEST:
I don't know. This was HUAC. Walters.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were they asking you about?
DON WEST:
Well, a bunch of us were supposed to be communists. In Memphis, the Eastland hearing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When was that, the Eastland hearing?

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DON WEST:
'55. Memphis. This was the internal security thing. I think I mentioned that three of my former students were there, you know. That evidence, since I've been at Pipestem, has been reproduced and given broadside distribution all over the area. A friend of mine brought me fifty copies. He said there was somebody on the street corner at Henton just passing them out to people as they passed by and he said "Give me a bunch of these" and he brought them and gave them to me. The whole hearing reproduced. "The investigation of communism in the mid-South. The record of Donald L. West." And it's a Congressional committee. Looks like official stuff, you see. It's the hearing. [unknown] local people who don't know the difference that they make an impression on. So I've had that kind of thing to fight there. As I say, I've never defended myself. I've just ignored it and gone ahead. I've always taken the position that if my life itself can't speak, my words are pretty feeble instruments for defending me on anything.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you called before HUAC any other time?
DON WEST:
No. McCarran's committee. And you know the book Matuso wrote, False Witness. Matuso said that I was a communist. I was a boy scout master in my churches and I was making little communists out of boy scouts and all that kind of stuff. And wrote me up for the McCarran committee. And Paul Crouch.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was involved in the Southern Congress for Human Welfare in some way.
DON WEST:
Yeah, he was. I was one of the founders of Southern Congress. Crouch was. Jim Dombrowski and others. But I lived with

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Crouch over here in Greensboro once for about six weeks in the same apartment. I knew him very well. I was in jail with him in Danville. That was in '34. I never thought he was anything but a stooge. For a long time he was the favorite of the Eastland committee, all these committees, FBI, reporting on everybody. He had them drag Virginia Durr and Aubrey Williams, all of them, down to New Orleans. Crouch testified that they were communists. That he'd been to communist meetings with them. Right after he stepped down off the stand testifying on Virginia, Clifford Durr—he's an old southern gentleman, you know, and southern gentlemen don't like to have their ladies talked about in an ugly way. As he came down off the steps Clifford walked up and just knocked him flat on his back.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You mean when you lived with him you thought he was an agent? Why did you keep….
DON WEST:
Well, you know it's just like this. You can't always prove a lot of things that you think and you don't go around talking because it sows dissension. I got in trouble with some of the CP people whom I knew by saying this. Because Crouch was a DO here in North Carolina of the CP. And one of them, once in New York, said "What do you think about comrade Crouch's work?" I told him just quite frankly. And oh my god, Don West was leading a factional fight against comrade Crouch. I was red-baiting. But I never had any confidence in him at all. Well, there's a lot of other stuff that we don't have down.
RAY FAHERTY:
When did you go up to Maryland?

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DON WEST:
I got a grant to go to the Library of Congress and study research on Appalachian history from the Rabinowitz Foundation.
END OF INTERVIEW