Title: Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016.
Interviewer: Faherty, Ray
Interviewee: West, Don
Abstract: Activist, leftist, poet, and ordained minister Don West remembers a lifetime of union and civil rights activism in this interview. West's father, determined to give his children the education he never had, left his home in the mountains of Georgia for cotton country, hoping to support his family with sharecropping and send his children to local schools. West's family brought mountain values with them when they left their home, and those values—independence, respect, hard work, and faith—shaped West's life as a Christian left-wing activist. West worked his way through his undergraduate and graduate education, earning a doctoral degree in divinity from Vanderbilt University while acting as a labor organizer in high-profile strikes, including the 1929 cotton mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, and the coal strike in Wilder, Tennessee. West describes some of his experiences in union organizing. Hounded by local and federal law enforcement, as well as by journalists and even members of the Communist Party, West moved from community to community, allying himself with unions and other organizations across the South, infiltrating mines and meeting with governors, distributing literature, and teaching. This interview offers a detailed description of activism and organizing in the South of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, a region torn between traditions of white supremacy and anti-unionism and the need for social and economic progress.