John C. West Exhibit
South Carolina Political Collections
South Caroliniana Library
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Early Years

The Early Years

Born August 27, 1922, John Carl West grew up on a farm near Camden, in the Kershaw County community known as Charlotte Thompson, S.C.

Cleveland School (Kershaw County, S.C.)"The building in which the holocaust occurred, that destroyed nearly four score souls at Cleveland school house...was six miles southeast of Camden... Mrs. [Mattie] West escaped death by jumping from the second story window, or climbing down the flag pole, and her mother, who is over 70, also slid down the pole..."

J. O. Moseley, The Terrible Cleveland Fire, Charleston, S.C.:
Southern Printing and Publishing Co., 1923.

The Cleveland school fire of May 23, 1923, took the lives of seventy-seven people, including West's father. In an unpublished memoir, West noted, "The loss of 77 persons from this small community [of Charlotte Thompson, S.C.] was a disaster from which there was never a recovery... That event changed the course of the community and the West family." Mrs. West resigned from her job teaching school in order to manage the 220-acre family farm. Even during the hardest days of the Depression, the Wests persevered.

After high school, John West attended The Citadel, as had his brother Shelton. He graduated in May 1942, entered into military service, and was trained on antiaircraft guns. That same year he married long-time sweetheart, Lois Rhame.


In an oral history interview conducted by South Carolina Political Collections, West recalled the significance of the scholarship which allowed him to attend The Citadel:
Citadel debate team photo"It was the only opportunity I knew I'd have to get what amounted to a free education, so it was never any question of me liking it or not liking it. I liked it from the day that I got there."

In this image of the Citadel debate team, West appears
third from the right, and inset.

The U.S. Army selected West for intelligence work at the Pentagon where he deciphered Japanese signals. He went to Japan at the war's end as part of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.

Upon his return to South Carolina, West enrolled at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He passed the bar exam while in law school, entered into a partnership with attorney Allen Murchison of Camden, S.C., and completed his coursework while teaching in the University's Department of Political Science. Mrs. West also worked at the University as an instructor of Physical Education for Women.


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