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afterword 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 to those struggles as he had ever been, but he was looking for ways to connect with others who shared his concerns. He had clearly endured persecution and prosecution. He had suffered failure and frustration. He had faced adversity and apathy.Yet he had persevered. He was an inspiration, a symbol of the power of a purposeful life. His name was Don West. I was one of the students at that gathering who was awed and impressed, perhaps particularly so since I had grown up in the East Tennessee mountains less than 150 miles from his birthplace.Although West was approximately the age of my father, in many ways his life paralleled mine. I had walked my first picket line in the summer of 1961 in my Tennessee hometown to protest a segregated laundromat, and I met Don West the following year while I was attending my first nationwide gathering of student activists, a National Council meeting of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS made a point of calling itself the “New Left,” and the spirit of the times could too often be summed up with the expression, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Activists of my generation sometimes tended to be disdainful of what they called derisively the “Old Left”—meaning the progressive movements of Don West’s generation. Thus his attendance at our meeting, despite our youthful disregard for his generation’s struggles, impressed me. His unabashed regard for the Mountain South, where I had grown up, stirred me. Don West’s presence that day convinced me that any commitment to social justice and meaningful change has to be lifelong and intergenerational. I had no way of knowing that this, my first encounter with Don, would be the beginning of a thirty-year friendship between us,a bond that would not be severed until his death in 1992. Yet over the following decades, our paths would cross many times with every 03.Afterword.195-blnk 204/West 12/2/03, 11:50 AM 195 afterword 196 conversation revealing to me more and more ways that Don West had contributed , not only to progressive forces in the South, but to American society as a whole. While attending another SDS National Council meeting in Pine Hill the following year,I was delighted to see DonWest again.We talked more.I learned that he was teaching in Maryland and saving money to move back to the Mountain South.At a time when many people with roots inAppalachia and the South were ashamed of their region and strove to escape its endemic problems, Don was committed to a strong vision of a progressive South ushered in by native southern activists. He had learned on his grandfather’s knee that deep down a progressive legacy had survived in the South for generations,and his subsequent research had confirmed that legions of brave southerners had fought injustice throughout its history. Don West saw the beauty of old-fashioned mountain values and of the religious tenets he was raised to uphold. He felt that those of us who came from the South and from Appalachia were in a unique position to encourage lasting change.He rejected the trendy calls to join the “vanguard” of the various protest movements in Mississippi or California or other hot spots. Don’s strong commitment to our region influenced me more than anything else I learned from him. During the 1960s I worked full-time for SDS, the Council of the Southern Mountains, and other organizations that were part of the social justice and protest movements of that volatile decade. I even spent a couple of years in California creating a job clearinghouse for “the Movement” called Vocations for Social Change. By the summer of 1973 I had returned to Tennessee and married. My new wife, Connie, and I were living on a...


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