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Oral History Interview with Don West, January 22, 1975. Interview E-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • 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.
  • A mountain family moves to Georgia cotton country
  • The Berry School seeks to indoctrinate poor whites with white supremacy
  • Tensions over organizing efforts at the Berry School
  • Expulsion after protesting strict rules at Lincoln Memorial University
  • Comments on mountain culture
  • Leading a funeral service for a slain union leader
  • A black intellectual's disdain for poor whites
  • Describing leaders of the Underground Railroad
  • Elements of the Communist Party's efforts to free Angelo Herndon
  • Arrested with fellow Communists in Philadelphia
  • Harmony between leftist politics and Christianity
  • Internecine battles between progressive thinkers
  • Disillusionment for 1930s activists as their efforts fail
  • Workers' rights efforts greeted by harassment
  • One mining union embodies egalitarian mountain spirit
  • Trying to transform small labor movements into one larger movement
  • West faces harassment after organizing mine workers
  • Pressure on Kentucky's governor yields progress on wages
  • Opposing racism in the New Deal with help from a Pentecostal minister
  • Continual activism and continual harassment
  • Ralph McGill Red-baits West
  • Communists and Progressives clash
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.