Poet and political activist Don West died on September 29, 1992, at age 86. The Georgia native was also a preacher, labor organizer, and educator. He earned a doctor of divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, where he was influenced by the Social Gospel movement. When he was in his 20s, West cofounded the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee, which has been attended by many activists, including Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. In the 1950s, West was a non-cooperating witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Don West and his wife, Connie, first came to West Virginia in 1965 and established the Appalachian South Folklife Center at Pipestem in Summers County. At the center, he led summer camps for low-income youth and an annual mountain music festival. West stressed the importance of mountain heritage and spoke out against the ‘‘hillbilly’’ stereotype. A political radical, he felt the American economic system contributed to Appalachia’s poverty. He had a profound influence on progressive politics and culture in Appalachia until his retirement from the Folklife Center in the late 1980s. He lived his final years at Cabin Creek in Kanawha County.