Monday, January 28, 2013

Research from Jordan: Mayor Ben West


Mayor Ben West (March 31, 1911 – November 20, 1974) was the mayor of Nashville, Tennessee 1951-1963, which happened to be during the Civil Rights movement.  This made West a pivotal character in the movement due to his position and for the simple fact that he was white.  Before I talk more about West's role in the movement though I would like to first give a glimpse into his life prior to the events of the movement.  West came to Nashville as a boy when his parents moved there for work.  As he grew up he attended Cumberland Law School and Vanderbilt University.  In 1934 he became an assistant district attorney, which was the start of his career in law and politics.  He later became a Senator for Tennessee and while in the Senate he passed legislation that brought back single-member district elections, which in turn allowed for a rebirth of black voting power in city politics.  In 1951 he won the election to become mayor of Nashville.  It was in this role that we see him make his most influential change on the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1960, during the heart of the movement, West made an appearance at city hall where he was interviewed by Diane Nash.  In this interview Nash asked him, "Do you believe it is morally right to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of his or her skin color?".  He said that he couldn't discriminate against a person based solely on the color of their skin.  His stated that the reason behind this belief was that "Sometimes a man has to answer, and not a politician" which I felt was one of the most powerful quotes of the whole movement.  This is especially important because it came from a white, male and he was the mayor of a very segregated city nonetheless!  This statement was political suicide in the eyes of his constituents that put him in office, but was a powerful tool in the fight against racism for the activists.  His role in the movement after his comments at city hall was much smaller but it is still important to note what a large impact West had on the movement and how he may have changed history forever.  The two most interesting  parts of my research were that statement he made at city hall in 1960, and that he came from a low income, working class family and rose to the position of Senator and Mayor.  This subject/person  is important because although he was never part of the protests during the Civil Rights Movement he held a lot of power and with it he influenced the choices of other people in favor the movement.

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard of Mayor Ben West sadly. He was clearly a very influential man in this movement. You did a great job reporting details about him.