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No Lonesome Road

No Lonesome Road: Selected Prose and Poems

don west
Jeff Biggers
George Brosi
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    No Lonesome Road
    Book Description:

    This is the first book to celebrate the life and writing of one of the most charismatic Southern leaders of the middle twentieth century, Don West (1906-1992). West was a poet, a pioneer advocate for civil rights, a preacher, a historian, a labor organizer, a folk-music revivalist, an essayist, and an organic farmer. He is perhaps best known as an educator, primarily as cofounder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and founder of the Appalachian South Folklife Center in West Virginia. In his old age, West served as an elder statesman for his causes. _x000B__x000B_No Lonesome Road allows Don West to speak for himself. It provides the most comprehensive collection of his poetry ever published, spanning five decades of his literary career. It also includes the first comprehensive and annotated collection of West's nonfiction essays, articles, letters, speeches, and stories, covering his role at the forefront of Southern and Appalachian history, and as a pioneer researcher and writer on the South's little-known legacy of radical activism. _x000B__x000B_Drawing from both primary and secondary sources, including previously unknown documents, correspondence, interviews, FBI files, and newspaper clippings, the introduction by Jeff Biggers stands as the most thorough, insightful biographical sketch of Don West yet published in any form._x000B__x000B_The afterword by George Brosi is a stirring personal tribute to the contributions of West and also serves as a thoughtful reflection on the interactions between the radicals of the 1930s and the 1960s._x000B__x000B_The best possible introduction to his extraordinary life and work, this annotated selection of Don West's writings will be inspirational reading for anyone interested in Southern history, poetry, religion, or activism.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09283-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. introduction
    (pp. xiii-xlviii)
    Jeff Biggers

    In the spring of 1946, the country still emerging from the aftermath of the Second World War, a slender volume of poetry, Clods of Southern Earth, emerged as the featured title of the New York publishing house Boni and Gaer. The noted “first-time” author was Don West, an “unknown” Georgia farmer and educator. At the time of their press announcement, the veteran publishers Charles Boni and Joseph Gaer had already received 12,300 prepress orders for the collection; the Atlanta Constitution would report that the publication set a record for sales of a first book of verse (Hite 1946). Over a...

  5. selected prose

    • clods of southern earth: introduction (1946)
      (pp. 3-8)

      Once upon a time, not too long ago, authors wrote mainly about kings and nobles—the aristocracy. Many stories and poems were filled with debauchery and intrigues. Writers occupied themselves in turning out tales about the purity of lovely ladies and the daring of gallant gentlemen who never did a useful day’s work in their lives.

      The fact that systems of kings and nobles, of aristocratic ladies and useless gentlemen, were always reared upon the misery of masses of peasants, slaves, or workers, was carefully omitted from most books. The idea that these same peasants, slaves, or workers might themselves...

    • the first jew i ever met and the devilʹs den (1985)
      (pp. 9-13)

      He was a pack-peddler, a small stooped man. He carried a large oil-cloth bundle on his bent back. He had no buggy, no mule to ride. There were no automobiles and the closest train station was 16 miles away. He always came walking, often on the short-cut woods trails. There were no hotels, motels, or restaurants. He spent the nights and ate with mountain families.

      Our home was a regular. It was a one room log cabin with a lean-to kitchen and eating place. Mama fixed a pallet on the floor by the hearth for him to sleep. Years later...

    • hard times cotton mill girls (1979)
      (pp. 14-17)

      The voice was a high soprano. The sound drifted through the log cracks of the cotton house where I played at the edge of the cockle-burr patch. My Aunt Mattie sang as she washed dishes. Our people always sing. The clatter of plates and forks was an undertone to the high clear voice.

      My Aunt Mattie was a spinner at the Atco Cotton Mill. It was a Goodyear plant. Our Grandpa Bud West moved his family from the north Georgia mountains to the foothills of Cartersville in 1915. My own family still lived back in the mountains. We dug a...

    • harry harrison kroll: an essay (1986)
      (pp. 18-21)

      He was a southern sharecropper. His parents were sharecroppers. They might have been the Jeeters in Caldwell’s Tobacco Road.13 He never got a high school diploma. He wrote novels about sharecroppers. Unlike Caldwell’s Jeeters, Kroll’s characters had dignity, self-respect. He was one of the three best teachers I ever had. One of the other two was Dr. Alva Taylor who later edited Mountain Life and Work magazine. The other was a shy little 17-year-old girl who taught the one room school where I finished sixth grade. Her name was Nina Reece. We called her “Miss Ninnie.” But I’ll write of...

    • knott county, kentucky: a study (1932)
      (pp. 22-28)

      Knott County is one of the most remote and isolated of all the mountain counties. It is not different in many ways from many other of the highland counties, and it is very different in many other ways. My purpose in this thesis is to present the various phases of the county’s life frankly, as clearly as possible and without any prejudice. Many ills and unfavorable conditions have been uncovered which I am not able to offer a remedy for.

      Knott County lies almost in the extreme south-eastern corner of Kentucky. It is in the heart of Kentucky’s famous mountains—...

    • sweatshops in the schools (1933)
      (pp. 29-29)
      Don West

      Recently there has been a significant student strike in the Berry Schools, at Rome, Georgia. Berry is a school for poor whites which parades itself as a great philanthropic and humanitarian institution. The students pay their tuition by working during the four summer months. Before the depression they were paid from sixteen to eighteen cents an hour, working from ten to twelve hours a day at manual labor of the hardest sort, some of it semi-skilled. This summer, however, the authorities reduced the working students to the disgracefully low wage of ten to twelve cents an hour, while tuition remained...

    • georgia wanted me dead or alive (1934)
      (pp. 30-33)

      The little school house at the foot of Burnt Mountain rang with the music of our voices. Thirty mountaineer children proudly lifted our state song up through the cracks in the roof. Echoes resounded from the sides of Burnt Mountain. They mingled with the dark thicket of Devil’s Hollow. A farmer across the valley on the mountain stopped his mule. The song floated up through the fodder blades. Two of his grand-kids were in that school! He smiled. The last verse climbed up from the valley.

      Old Kim Mulkey22 clucked to his mule. The plow tore through crab grass roots,...

    • let freedom ring (1936)
      (pp. 34-35)

      Cruel, vicious, vivid reality! Sorrow and death, struggle and new hope. I sat lost in its perfect portrayal. The mountain cabin. Little pinch-bellied John and Bonnie. Old Grandpap, the mother, kinfolks and neighbors.

      I lived again back when I was a kid—before my people left the mountains for the textile mills. That first scene—old Grandpap, how like old Kim Mulkey my own Grandpap who so reluctantly left the mountains with the exodus of our clan to the low lands and cotton mills. How like our neighbors and kin folks—even the familiar pack-peddler!

      Let Freedom Ring did not...

    • thoughts of a kentucky miner (1936)
      (pp. 36-37)

      Lame Shoat Gap looks like an old house sunk upside down in the mountain. Smears of dawn daub the east, filter through murky fog, and rest above Dark Hollow. Scrub oak bushes are silhouettes on the rock cliffs; look like corn shucks full of sausages hanging from the rafters. Everything is quiet, like a farm before roosters start crowing.

      Down below, Dark Hollow lies snoring. Huge folds of dusk wrap her up in black blankets. Here and there lights flicker out from a miner’s shack, like spikes of gold half-hammered into the dark. Dark Hollow’s where we live. It’s just...

    • tobe-boy (1940)
      (pp. 38-41)

      Old Shug Cantrell stooped his shoulders to the plow handles. Red Georgia dirt crumbled up and dribbled down under the plow beam. Little clods tumbled out of the furrow like brown field mice stirred out of their nest. Dead ragweeds snapped and lay down under fresh soil.

      Furrow on furrow the man and the old mule stumbled around the mountain side. A bunch of dominecker hens scrounged into the row, snatching greedily for bugs and grub worms.

      At the end of each furrow of stubble, Shug kicked the lever that loosed the turner wing. The wing flopped over and was...

    • dreams (1944)
      (pp. 42-43)

      Childhood memories last longer and sometimes influence us more than we think. That’s why it’s so important that children have proper environment and training in those formative periods.

      I remember a certain old fellow back in the north Georgia mountains where I was brought up who termed himself a “practical man.” “The Devil,” he said, “is a practical man, too, but God is a dreamer.” He explained the evil and misery of the world that way. And, in our parts, it seemed a pretty good explanation, for the affairs of evil seemed to go forward with great efficiency while the...

    • georgia crisis (1947)
      (pp. 44-49)

      Fellow Georgians:

      I speak to you as one of many thousands who have been stirred by the startling recent developments in our state. I am moved to speak up as a native Georgian who realizes that these are times when no public spirited citizen can afford to keep quiet.

      We have witnessed recently, and are witnessing, no ordinary squabble of politicians, no ordinary stealing of an election in our state. And although Georgia has become the brunt of many radio and stage jokes, what is happening here is certainly no joking matter. The next few days may determine whether our...

    • speaking of the poet (1951)
      (pp. 50-50)

      Speaking of the poet—is he not a double man? Is he not a man of two selves, who lives with the people and of the people, and the man who lives alone?

      Refining, developing, hammering out inside himself the thing he sees in the people, the poet brings out its beauty, or he makes it ugly. It’s the thing inside the people the poet brings out.

      How can the poet speak when he has not walked with the people, when he has not been inside their hearts? And how can the poet sing whose own heart has not been...

    • west answers vfwʹs letter (1955)
      (pp. 51-54)

      Mr. Harry Campbell of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has written an open letter in which he questions my political beliefs.

      That any man or group should set themselves up as an “inquisitorial body,” assuming the authority to call citizens in question relative to religious or political beliefs is a violation of the spirit and principle upon which this nation was founded.

      Through the dark ages of struggle and sacrifice the human race has at least partially freed itself from the bondage once imposed by a Pope or political dictator. The whole Protestant movement under Martin Luther was a fight...

    • we southerners have a rendezvous with destiny (1956)
      (pp. 55-60)

      Twenty years ago Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “If I worked in a factory the first thing I would do would be to join a union.” He said that because he believed unions were good not only for the working man but for the country as a whole. The past 20 years have proved FDR to be right. No honest, and informed person can deny the good that labor unions have done by raising wages and the standard of living, by helping to achieve social legislation and social security, and in general bringing about more democracy for the people of our...

    • the death of old major (1966)
      (pp. 61-62)

      I braked the pickup to a quick stop. It was past midnight. The trip to town had been longer than expected. I was in a hurry, but there in the middle of the dirt road just off the highway stood Old Major, our stallion. The headlights glistened on his sleek hair and sparkled when the glow caught his eyes.

      His head was not held high now in the usual proud way. It drooped low. He stood headed toward the barn holding his left hind leg up. A cold chill ran up my spine. I knew something bad was wrong.


    • jesus, the quiet revolutionary (1967)
      (pp. 63-65)

      Personally, I like the plain Jesus, the carpenter-working-man Jesus, concerned for and close to the poor and common people. That Jesus was hard as nails used in the building of houses, but gentle as a child in a feeling for human needs. Pompous efforts to fasten him up in stained glass windows of costly cathedrals or confine him to solemn assemblies with ceremonial ritual have never impressed me.

      Empty, pious phrase-mongering unrelated to human need leaves me cold. Likewise I have scant concern for priestly religious garb … robes, frills, back-turned collars, and such. Much of my work can be...

    • romantic appalachia; or, poverty pays if you ainʹt poor (1969)
      (pp. 66-71)

      Almost every day we get letters from those wanting to come to Appalachia to “fight poverty.” They’ve read about the Southern Mountaineers. They’ve seen movies, comic strips, or TV (Lil’ Abner, Beverly Hillbillies).

      It’s not that there’s no poverty in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and other parts. There is. But Southern Appalachia has that “romantic” appeal.

      Just a few years ago it was the southern Negro, and dedicated (or adventure seeking) young “yankees” came trouping to the South on freedom rides, marches, and such. Not that racism, segregation, and even riots didn’t exist in the North. They did. But...

    • peopleʹs cultural heritage in appalachia (1971)
      (pp. 72-78)

      Sometimes references to the cultural heritage in the Appalachian South mean merely the quaint mannerisms, Elizabethan word pronunciation, “old fellerism.” Or our beautiful folk ballads, songs, music, tall tales, lore, quilt-making, and other arts and crafts may be included. All of these certainly are part of our heritage and should justly be considered. The folk songs, ballads, music, tales, and such grow out of the subsoil of folk living the hope and hurt, the sorrow and longing of our people. All of these are part of it, but not all.

      We believe a true understanding of our history will help...

    • robert tharin: biography of a mountain abolitionist (ca. 1970)
      (pp. 79-94)

      He was a young man, idealistic, inclined to be serious, perhaps naive—at least, inexperienced. He was not a slaveholder, nor the son of one. Nor was he a native of Alabama when he hung out his shingle over a law office in Wetumpka in 1860. He was a newcomer from the South Carolina hills. Born on a farm January 10, 1830, he had by hard work and perseverance managed an A.B. degree from the College of Charleston in March 1857. Going to Alabama where certain kinsmen lived in September of the same year, he continued work and study and...

    • in a land of plenty: no copyright (1982–85)
      (pp. 95-96)

      No Copyright:

      Purposely this book is not copyrighted. Poetry and other creative efforts should be levers, weapons to be used in the people’s struggle for understanding, human rights, and decency. “Art for Art’s Sake,” is a misnomer. The poet can never be neutral. In a hungry world the struggle between oppressor and oppressed is unending. There is the inevitable question: “Which side are you on?”

      To be content with things as they are, to be “neutral,” is to take sides with the oppressor who also wants to keep the status quo. To challenge the power of oppression is the poet’s...

  6. selected poems

    • from crab-grass (1931)
      (pp. 99-106)
    • from deep, deep down in living (n.d.)
      (pp. 107-111)
    • from between the plow handles (1932)
      (pp. 112-117)
    • from toil and hunger (1940)
      (pp. 118-136)
    • from clods of southern earth (1946)
      (pp. 137-146)
    • from the road is rocky (1951)
      (pp. 147-156)
    • from o mountaineers! (1974)
      (pp. 157-179)
    • from in a land of plenty (1982–85)
      (pp. 180-194)
  7. afterword
    (pp. 195-204)
    George Brosi

    A tall, slender, conventionally dressed man in his fifties walked into the group of disheveled college students gathered in 1962 at Pine Hill, New York. He did nothing to attract attention to himself. When he spoke, it was with an unassuming southern accent, and those who talked with him soon discovered that he had grown up on a small farm in the North Georgia mountains and that he had been active in struggles for poor and working-class people since the 1930s. Thirty years after he began working for a better world, not only did he remain as undaunted and committed...

  8. notes to the prose and poems
    (pp. 205-216)
  9. a don west bibliography
    (pp. 217-218)
  10. index
    (pp. 219-228)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)