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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 >>

Communists and Progressives clash

West describes the growth of the Progressive Party in Georgia. His contributions to the party earned him the ire of both the anti-Communist Ralph McGill and Community Party leader Homer Chase. He regrets the conflict between the Communists and the Progressives.

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:
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 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 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. 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.