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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 >>

West faces harassment after organizing mine workers

West remembers an effort to organize a mine in Kentucky. Organizers who tried to make contact with workers faced swift retribution from mine owners, so West and his wife, Connie, decided to get jobs as scabs, infiltrating the mine and organizing it from the inside out. The scheme worked, but retribution came: West spent six weeks in jail and was ordered to leave the state upon his release. As he left the state, all four wheels flew off the car.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were you living exactly when you got involved with the workers alliance?
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 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.