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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 >>

A black intellectual's disdain for poor whites

West remembers some of the thinkers who contributed to the intellectual and spiritual atmosphere he lived in in the 1930s. He remembers Claude Williams and Buck Kester, and taking a class from E. Franklin Frazier at Scaritt College. He found that Frazier shared what he thought of as a common disdain for poor whites among black intellectuals.

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

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 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 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 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.