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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Leading a funeral service for a slain union leader

West remembers Alva Taylor, his dissertation director and a devotee of human values. He also remembers Barney Graham, a union president who was murdered while leading a strike against a coal company in Tennessee in 1933. His daughter wrote a song about his death that was later recorded by Pete Seeger. The coal company refused Graham the dignity of a funeral, so West officiated at his first as preacher in a ceremony he arranged with Taylor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

While you were at Vanderbilt did you know Claude Williams?
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.
Taylor taught a kind of Christian socialism?
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.
You were still a student then. You hadn't graduated.
No, I was a student.