|Raphael Benjamin West|
|Member of the Tennessee Senate
from the district
|62nd Mayor of Nashville|
|Preceded by||Thomas L. Cummings, Sr.|
|Succeeded by||Beverly Briley|
|Vice Mayor of Nashville|
31 March 1911|
|Died||20 November 1974(aged 63)|
|Resting place||Nashville City Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Humes Meadors|
|Children||Ben West Jr., Jay West|
|Alma mater||Cumberland Law School, Vanderbilt University|
West was born in Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee, the son of Martha Melissa (née Wilson) and her husband James Watt West. He came to Nashville as a boy. When he was three years old his parents moved to a working-class neighborhood in Flat Rock, now known as the Woodbine district of Davidson County. Working his way through school, he attended Cumberland Law School and Vanderbilt University. In 1934 he began work as an assistant district attorney in Nashville. On August 31, 1935, West married Mary Humes Meadors. They were parents of two sons, Jay and Ben Jr. Jay West later became vice mayor of Nashville and Ben West Jr. is a democratic member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
In 1943, West ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Nashville. Three years later, in 1946, he won election as vice-mayor of Nashville and then, in 1949, as state senator in the Tennessee Senate. In the Senate, West introduced legislation that brought back single-member district elections, replacing the citywide election of Nashville's city council. This represented a major breakthrough for the rebirth of black voting power in city politics because it allowed minorities whose votes were concentrated in a few wards to carry elections they could not hope to win in citywide contests. This reform was also the key to West's political future, as he would depend heavily on the reemerging black voter whose political power, with the repeal of the poll tax and other voting restrictions and the movement of white voters to the suburbs, was increasing.
Mayor of Nashville
In 1951 West won election as mayor of Nashville, along with the first two African American councilmen in 40 years. As mayor of Nashville West supported other voting reforms, particularly a campaign to reapportion rural and urban voting districts. West championed the cause of reapportionment in the landmark case Baker v. Carr, by which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the “one man, one vote” principle. This ruling forced reapportionment of state legislatures and shifted power to woefully underrepresented cities. While mayor of Nashville, West presided over the Capitol Hill Redevelopment Project, which replaced a squalid slum and vice district surrounding the state capitol building with a green belt, parking lots, and new state office buildings. West's strong alliance with Nashville's black community also helped improve race relations and prepare the city for the challenge of the Civil Rights movement. At one critical moment during the sit-in demonstrations of 1960 protest marchers challenged West to take a stand against segregation. He did so, and the Nashville business community quickly agreed to desegregate department store lunch counters, making Nashville the first southern city to desegregate public facilities. With his base in the old inner city, West opposed the consolidation of city and county government in 1958 and 1963. He lost reelection as mayor of the new Metropolitan government in his 1963 contest with Beverly Briley. West retired to private life and died on November 20, 1974. He is buried in Nashville City Cemetery.
Thomas L. Cummings, Sr.
|Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee
- Staff report (November 22, 1974). BEN WEST IS DEAD; NASHVILLE MAYOR; Served From 1951 to 1963—Enforced Integration. New York Times
- Ben West via Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture