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John Carl West Papers

Identifier: SCU-SCPC-JCW

The John C. West Collection consists of 52.5 feet of material, bulk 1942-2004, arranged in five series: Public Papers; Personal Papers; Speeches; Audio-Visual Records; and Clippings.

Public Papers

Public Papers are arranged according to the office held by West.

The Highway Commissioner file contains the certification of West‘s election, signed by the Secretary of State on June 1, 1948.

South Carolina Senate papers, chiefly 1962 to 1965, consist mainly of correspondence and topical files on a variety of issues, including technical education, teacher salaries, nursing school facilities at USC, atomic energy, and local government. West's "Legislative Column," 1957 to 1964, appeared in the Camden Chronicle and provided weekly updates of the issues before and actions of the legislature. Also of interest is material on West‘s efforts to foster industrial development in South Carolina, particularly in Kershaw County.

Lieutenant Governor records, 1967 to 1971, are divided into General Papers, Press Releases, Schedules, and Topical Files. Lieutenant Governor Press Releases consist of releases, statements, and newsletters from West. Many summarize West's speeches to local groups or organizations. Schedules consist of West's pocket calendar from 1970 as well as typed memos of his activities for various weeks from May to December 1970. Press releases and schedules from West‘s 1970 campaign for governor can be found in Personal Papers, Campaigns.

The bulk of the correspondence, which was originally arranged by the addresses of the correspondents by county, has been incorporated into topical files. Lieutenant Governor Topical Files cover a variety of issues and endeavors undertaken by West. Issues include the regulation of alcohol, school desegregation, the gasoline tax, Communism, auto liability insurance, reapportionment, industrial growth, and pollution. South Carolina State College files provide a detailed look at an incident, generally known as the "Orangeburg Massacre," which resulted in the deaths of three black students on February 8, 1968. Included is correspondence between West and students at S.C. State. Of particular interest is a letter of April 8, 1968, from West to Congressman Bryan Dorn describing the presentation to the General Assembly of a student petition requesting an open hearing on the incident. West commented, "The racial pressures and tensions have certainly created problems which seem literally to try men's souls, as well as their wisdom. If we can resist the temptation to make mass denunciations of the many for the actions of a few and unite as citizens of good will, working together, the problems of race can be solved in our time by this generation."

The Human Rights Commission file reflects West's concern about the state of race relations in South Carolina. In his final year as Lieutenant Governor, he researched the need for a state human rights commission in South Carolina and studied as a model Kentucky‘s Human Rights Commission. He concluded that such a commission was an "essential step in the maintenance and improvement of race relations in S.C." and announced his intention to create one as governor.

Other topical files concern economic growth and development, technical education, industry, medicine, pollution, a proposed BASF plant in Beaufort, highway safety, automobile liability laws, teachers‘ pay raises, and retention of adequate tariff protection for textiles (including correspondence with Hubert Humphrey). The "Moody Report" file pertains to the 1968 report, commissioned by Governor McNair, assessing South Carolina‘s greatest areas of need, including the need to upgrade health care, improve transportation systems, and provide better educational facilities in order to attract higher quality industry.

Gubernatorial papers, 1971 to 1975, are divided into General, Press Releases, Schedules, Topical Files, and papers of Mrs. Lois West as First Lady. Gubernatorial Press Releases consist of news releases, statements, and newsletters. The bulk of the releases, 1971, report on West's speeches, future engagements, thoughts on popular issues, and appointments to commissions or offices. Schedules detail West‘s meetings, travel plans, and prearranged events and functions during 1971, the final months of 1972, and 1973.

Gubernatorial Topical Files relate to issues such as the energy crisis, highways, health care, tourism, and West‘s efforts to encourage Kuwaiti and other investment in South Carolina. West's commitment to improving state government is reflected in the extensive files of the Management Review Commission (MRC), which he established. This commission recruited members of the business community to devise a plan for streamlining state government and making it more efficient. The MRC unveiled its report of over 170 pages in January 1972. West formed an Implementation Task Force to carry out the MRC‘s suggestions. Many of the Task Force memos and meeting minutes are present. Other issues of interest on the state and local level include the labor situation at the State Ports Authority, conditions at Charles Towne Landing, drug abuse at the Central Correctional Institution, investment in new industry, pollution control, and the energy crisis. Files regarding Charles D. ("Pug") Ravenel chiefly consist of correspondence from citizens concerning the September 1974 State Supreme Court ruling that Ravenel, Democratic nominee for governor in 1974, was ineligible for the office. Many Ravenel supporters called for West to reconvene the General Assembly for a special session to consider amending the state constitution‘s residency requirements. West ultimately declined to call the session, feeling that there was not sufficient support for the amendment among the legislators.

Mrs. Lois West‘s papers from her time as First Lady of South Carolina include correspondence and schedules. Among Mrs. West‘s activities as First Lady was an active involvement with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, including working at an annual summer camp for children with the disease. Mrs. West also established a horticulture program for the mentally disabled, which provided flower arrangements to decorate the State House and Governor‘s Mansion. She also oversaw the completion of the renovation of the Lace House on the Mansion grounds.

Ambassador to Saudi Arabia files, 1977 to 1981, are divided among General, Schedules, and Topical Files. Files on West‘s appointment and resignation are also present. General papers comprise the bulk of the ambassadorial papers and consist chiefly of correspondence, memos, reports, and cables. Subjects include West‘s efforts on behalf of American business, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and OPEC and oil production. Included is extensive correspondence with President Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and officials in the Saudi Arabian government, including King Khalid and Crown Prince (later King) Fahd. West reported regularly to President Carter with his assessments of people and events in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, often in handwritten letters, many of which are present in the papers. Ambassadorial Topical Files include a Lois West File which contains congratulatory letters, correspondence with Rosalynn Carter, and one visitor's impressions of economic relations with Saudi Arabia. "Death of a Princess" was a PBS docudrama, aired in May 1980, which dramatized the story of a Saudi Arabian princess recently executed for adultery. Many who were knowledgeable about Saudi Arabian politics and culture, including West, criticized the film as inaccurate. The ambassadorial papers were reviewed by the State Department in 1989-1991 and again in 2005-2006, and some documents and portions of documents have been withheld for security reasons.

Personal Papers

Personal Papers are divided into eight sub-series: General, Business and Financial Records, Campaign Records, Diary and Memoirs, Family, Military Service, Schedules, and Topical Files.

Personal General Files chiefly hold correspondence, 1938 to 2004, with friends and associates from throughout West‘s life and career, relating to his personal, business, and political activities. This material includes both incoming and outgoing letters, many of the latter handwritten by West, a prolific correspondent. The files also contain tributes to friends and public figures who were retiring, as well as remembrances of friends who had passed away. Also of note are letters and cards received by West in 2003, when many friends and admirers, having learned that West was ill, wrote to express what he meant to them. Additional correspondence appears under Personal, Topical, in the Persons files. Among those represented in the Persons files are Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Business and Financial Records document West‘s work with Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette, Seibels Bruce, and his legal practice. The sub-series also includes material relating to his charitable donations and his investments in real estate and in communications.

Campaign Records relate to West's 1954, 1966, and 1970 campaigns as well as the presidential campaigns of Hubert Humphrey, 1968; Jimmy Carter, 1976; and Michael Dukakis, 1988. There is also material pertaining to Marshall Parker‘s 1962 campaign for lieutenant governor. Campaign records are divided into General, Financial Records, Organization Files, Publicity, and Topical Files.

West's successful campaign for Lieutenant Governor is well documented. General files consist chiefly of correspondence detailing support and opposition across South Carolina, discussions of campaign strategies, letters of congratulations, and correspondence between West and Earle E. Morris, Jr., Chairman of the state Democratic Party. Organization files contain correspondence between Harry Lightsey, West's campaign manager, and his county chairmen across the state and provide accounts of results by precinct. Included in these files are details of the county organizational structure of West's various volunteer and support groups. The publicity files contain correspondence between West, Lightsey, and the Bradham Advertising Agency exploring ideas and strategies for ad campaigns, as well as copy for television advertisements. The Marshall Mays Topical File contains brochures and other material from Mays's campaign, a biography, his 1960 legislative record, and correspondence concerning Mays' questionable involvement with the Pulp Paper Company. Of interest are Mays' allegations that West distributed campaign money from the National Democratic Party for Lyndon Johnson during his 1964 presidential campaign.

The 1968 Hubert Humphrey Presidential Campaign files chiefly consist of correspondence and campaign materials from both Humphrey‘s campaign and that of his rival for the Democratic nomination, Eugene McCarthy. West and Humphrey had a warm friendship, as documented by letters in the files, and West maintained his support for Humphrey throughout the campaign season.

West‘s 1970 gubernatorial campaign is also well documented. General files contain correspondence regarding current issues, campaign events, and suggestions for and assessments of the success of the campaign. Of particular interest are letters concerning the incident in Lamar, and a letter, February 24, 1970, from Hubert Humphrey, who wrote, "I hope and pray that your friendship with me will not be a political liability in your state." West replied on March 3: "My public support for you was the right thing to do and I will never feel other than proud of it."

Gubernatorial organization files contain information on county organization, chairman‘s manuals, and the state campaign organization. Also included is information about "South Carolinians for West," a group of West's supporters who allowed their names to be used in advertisements for West across the state; lists of volunteers; and voter registration comparisons. Of particular interest is correspondence from members of the Strategy Committee regarding West's and Watson's strengths and weaknesses. Press Releases contain announcements of West's campaign activities and excerpts from his speeches. Several were issued by West supporters. Schedules, August 1969 to November 1970, list the many campaign events in which West participated.

Topical Files concern subjects such as the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, textile imports, and school desegregation. Files also relate to West opponent Albert Watson and potential opponent Lester Bates. The Bates file includes analyses of his success as mayor of Columbia, Bates quotes, and his announcement of his decision not to run for governor. The Watson file contains newsletters, quotes, and information West requested on Watson's travel expenditures as a member of Congress.

Jimmy Carter‘s 1976 presidential campaign is documented by General files consisting chiefly of correspondence on the progress of the campaign, fundraising, and the shaping of Carter‘s foreign policy positions. Beginning in 1975 West worked actively in Carter‘s campaign. While leading the 1976 South Carolina trade mission to the Middle East, West collected campaign contributions for Carter. He also wrote Carter on May 10, 1976, with some observations about the region, concluding: "Since I feel the Mid-East will be one of the key areas of your concern when you are elected, I would like the opportunity of sitting down with your foreign policy advisors and giving them the information and ideas which we gleaned during our trip." As a result of his letter, West met with Cyrus Vance, who became Carter‘s Secretary of State, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became National Security Advisor. He later worked closely with both men in his role as ambassador.

Carter Campaign Topical Files consist of appointment and talent files containing West's recommendations for positions within Carter's administration. The appointment file contains the recommendations of those candidates who Carter chose for a position. The talent files contain West's recommendations of unsuccessful candidates. Among those recommended by West was Marshall Mays, his former opponent in the lieutenant governor‘s race. Despite some contentious exchanges during the race, West and Mays were able to remain on friendly terms afterwards, with West suggesting to Carter that Mays be retained as leader of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. West wrote that "Both before and after that election I have considered him to be a gentleman and a friend." Mays returned the favor by writing the State Department in 1977 to support West‘s nomination as ambassador.

Michael Dukakis‘ 1988 presidential campaign file chiefly regards West's fund-raising efforts on behalf of Michael Dukakis.

West‘s diary, 1967, 1971 to 1975, and 1977 to 1981, is composed of the transcripts of tape recordings dictated by West each evening, chiefly during his terms as governor and ambassador, discussing the day‘s appointments and events. Portions of the diary dating from the ambassadorial period which have been judged by the State Department to contain classified information have been removed and/or redacted.

West endeavored on at least two occasions to write a memoir. A short outline of a memoir of his time as ambassador bears the tentative title, "Don‘t Forget to Pack the Grits!" Drafts of a longer, untitled memoir largely cover West‘s childhood, military service, and early legal and political career, including his retelling of a tense and dangerous confrontation with the Kershaw County Ku Klux Klan in 1958.

Personal Topical Files cover issues and projects in which West was interested or involved as a private citizen. Middle East files, circa 1974 to 2003, consist chiefly of correspondence with businessmen, diplomats, and personal friends, as well as with American and Saudi Arabian government officials. Following his years as ambassador, West‘s continuing interest in the Middle East, its business opportunities, culture, and conflicts, is reflected in his ongoing correspondence with various Saudi citizens and officials, including members of the royal family. From the time of his return to South Carolina in 1981 until his death in 2004, West was frequently called upon as an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, whether for interviews with local or national media or as a special envoy of the State Department. West corresponded with a number of diplomats and State Department colleagues, offering advice to his successors in Foreign Service in the Middle East. The files also include West's response to The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar Connection, a 1985 book by Steven Emerson. West‘s business interests in the Middle East included involvement with the Saudi American Business Roundtable and consulting work. His interest prior to becoming ambassador is depicted in substantial files relating to the 1976 South Carolina Trade Mission to the Middle East led by West. The Mission was designed to promote closer economic ties with the region. The group principally visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Other Personal Topical files reflect groups and institutions in which West was involved, such as the Presbyterian Church, the Southern Council on International and Public Affairs, and the Education Commission of the States‘ Task Force on Responsible Decisions about Alcohol, which West chaired. The Democratic Party files demonstrate West's involvement in the party throughout his life. Of particular interest is a confidential analysis of the political situation in South Carolina co-authored by West a few months before the 1960 presidential election. This report was written for the Democratic National Committee. Separate files on Political Candidates include information on West‘s endorsements of and contributions to both Democratic and Republican candidates, particularly in South Carolina races.

One of West‘s longtime endeavors was an effort to improve education in South Carolina, particularly at his alma maters, The Citadel and the University of South Carolina. There are extensive Personal Topical files on West‘s fundraising efforts for and involvement at the two schools. Among these are files on The Citadel‘s close-knit class of 1942, which included numerous well-known South Carolinians; in addition to West, other members of the class were Ernest F. Hollings and future Citadel presidents George M. "Obbe" Seignious and James A. "Alex" Grimsley. Further demonstrating West‘s commitment to education are files on the West Foundation, a non-profit corporation established in 1974 and designed to sponsor educational programs through grants both to institutions and to individual students. As a result of the Foundation‘s efforts, the John C. West Professorship of Government and International Relations was established at The Citadel. The Foundation has also distributed scholarships to undergraduates and sponsored numerous lecture series and seminars on international issues. More recently, the West Foundation helped bring into existence the University of South Carolina‘s John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, an initiative of the Department of Political Science (formerly the Department of Government and International Studies). West‘s longstanding support of USC and work for the department as a lecturer led to the naming of the Forum in his honor; according to the original proposal included in the West Forum files, the Forum‘s mission is to "promote and promulgate the civic values and political leadership exemplified in the career of Governor West." Also included in the files on USC is material relating to the Forum, as well as correspondence, lecture outlines, and research materials related to West‘s position as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Mid-East Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Family papers include correspondence with various family members, as well as files relating to West‘s mother, Mattie Ratterree West, and her interest in genealogy. Several nineteenth-century documents included seem to have belonged to ancestors, including an autograph album (c. 1857) and a copybook (c. 1840s). West himself took an interest in genealogy and corresponded with relatives, close and distant, throughout the country. Essays on West family history were apparently written by John West as a schoolboy.

Military Service records document West's military career, starting in 1942 when he began active duty as an Antiaircraft Artillery Battery Commander. Records trace West's rise in the military to Captain and later to Major. Military records are arranged chronologically and include West's special orders and other correspondence about his military career.

Schedules, 1966, 1976 to 1977, 1981 to 1998, and 2003, include invitations, information about appointments, and travel plans. Blank calendar pages have been removed. Materials relating to conferences and other events indicate West‘s continued involvement as an advisor to political leaders, state officials, and educational entities, as well as his popularity as a speaker, particularly on matters pertaining to South Carolina government and to the Middle East.

Speech files, 1950 to 2002, consist chiefly of texts, drafts, and outlines of speeches, related correspondence, and programs. Undated speeches, chiefly from his years as state senator, lieutenant governor, and governor, are found at the end of the collection. The speech index, at the end of the finding aid, only lists speeches that have texts or outlines, and does not list speeches which are only referred to in correspondence or programs.

Audio-Visual records include photographs, c.1898 to 2003, audiotapes, a film, and videotapes. Taglines and Transcripts consists of transcripts of five editions of "Report by Lieutenant Governor John West to the People of South Carolina," c. October 1970, and three Albert Watson interviews, 1970. It also contains suggested remarks for radio announcers to use when introducing taped statements by West.

Clippings, 1940 to 2003, contain newspaper and magazine articles about West and issues with which he was involved.


  • c. 1840s, c. 1857, 1905, 1924, 1938-2004



Library Use Only


52.5 Linear Feet


John West served his state and nation well as a soldier during World War II, as a member of the South Carolina Senate, 1955 to 1966, as Lieutenant Governor, 1967 to 1971, as Governor, 1971 to 1975, and as United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 1977 to 1981. Returning from Saudi Arabia, West practiced law, lectured on government and the Middle East at the University of South Carolina, served as Chairman of the Board of the Seibels Bruce Insurance Company, and engaged in a number of philanthropic enterprises. His public service was characterized by thoughtful and progressive activism.

Biographical Note

"He was and has always remained way ahead of his time, not only in race relations, but also in a deep commitment to make sure that every citizen of South Carolina was given an opportunity for good education and health care." ~ Former president Jimmy Carter, speaking of John C. West in 2003

John West served his state and nation as a soldier during World War II, as a member of the South Carolina Senate, as lieutenant governor, as governor, and as United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia. His public service throughout his career was characterized by thoughtful and progressive activism.

Born on August 27, 1922 to Shelton J. West and Mattie Ratterree West, John Carl West grew up on a farm in the Charlotte Thompson community near Camden, South Carolina. West‘s father was among the seventy-seven people killed in the Cleveland School fire of May 23, 1923. In an unpublished memoir, West noted, "The loss of 77 persons from this small community was a disaster from which there was never a recovery....That event changed the course of the community and the West family."

Mrs. West gave up teaching to run the 220-acre family farm and to raise John and his older brother, Shelton. In recalling his childhood during a 1996 oral history interview, West described working on the farm and "going out early on Saturday morning, picking flowers or sometimes picking vegetables, and taking them in to the community club market and selling them for whatever we could get."

In 1938, West was awarded the Camden Scholarship to The Citadel, which allowed him to fulfill his mother‘s goal of sending both her sons to college. While at The Citadel, West participated in many organizations and activities, including the school newspaper and literary magazine, the International Relations Club, and working in the public relations office of the Citadel. He was also captain and manager of the debating team, and traveled across the country for competitions, sharpening speaking skills which would later benefit him in his political career. On May 30, 1942, West graduated from The Citadel with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

On June 10, 1942, West began his military career at the Antiaircraft Training Center at Camp Stewart in Georgia. He and his unit were soon sent to Boston for anti-aircraft duty around the shipyards and dry docks in the area. In late August, West married childhood sweetheart Lois Rhame, then a student at Winthrop University, at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He spent that fall at Ohio State University, taking a training course in aircraft recognition. He then returned to Boston to serve as Battery Commander before training a replacement unit and returning to Camp Stewart. In November 1944, West was given a prestigious assignment to the Military Intelligence Division in Washington, D.C. He spent almost a year at the Pentagon evaluating intelligence reports on the Japanese Army. During this time, he also took law classes at George Washington University. In September 1945, he was appointed to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, a presidential committee which set out to analyze and evaluate the effects of the war on Japan. The committee spent forty days touring Nagoya and Osaka.

West returned to South Carolina in 1946 and entered law school at the University of South Carolina. While studying law, West also worked as a political science instructor at USC. Upon his admission to the bar in 1947, he formed a practice, Murchison and West, with Camden attorney Allen Murchison. Murchison had been a neighbor and father figure to the young John West. After Murchison's death, the practice was renamed West, Holland, Furman, and Cooper.

West's political career began with his appointment to the South Carolina Highway Commission in 1948, a position which he held until 1952. In 1954, West managed Edgar Brown‘s ill-fated campaign to succeed Burnet Maybank in the U.S. Senate. Brown was defeated by write-in candidate Strom Thurmond. West‘s real entrance into politics resulted from his concern about the cramped and inadequate facilities of the Camden hospital, which came to his attention in 1952 when his three-year-old son was taken there with convulsions. West agreed to join a committee devoted to upgrading or replacing the existing hospital. When the effort ran into opposition, West ran for the state Senate in 1954 on the hospital issue, winning his seat by only three votes.

As senator, West‘s areas of emphasis included improving the public school curriculum, advancing state-supported junior colleges, developing better nursing programs, encouraging industrial development, and revising the state‘s 1895 constitution. West, along with a number of his colleagues in the General Assembly and Governor Ernest F. Hollings, believed that industrialization and education could work together for the benefit of South Carolina and its citizens. If South Carolina could provide technical training for its potential workforce, then industry would be attracted to the state. West wrote legislation that resulted in the establishment of the Technical Education program, a landmark in South Carolina‘s move toward a modern industrial economy. West also helped to bring in industries such as the Elgin Watch Company, which located in his home county of Kershaw.

After twelve years as senator, West ran for lieutenant governor in 1966. In the Democratic primary, he faced fellow senator Roger Scott of Dillon, as well as Dero Cook, a lumber man from Conway and convicted moonshiner. While Scott and Cook entertained crowds with their humor, West emerged as a more serious candidate, with both experience in public office and a solid platform emphasizing education, industrial development, and health care delivery. He easily won the Democratic nomination, garnering more than twice as many votes as his two opponents combined.

In the 1966 general election, West was opposed by Republican Marshall Mays, an attorney and a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Greenwood County. States‘ rights constituted a major portion of Mays‘ platform. West went on to defeat Mays handily.

As lieutenant governor, West worked closely with Governor Robert McNair and continued to focus on three issues he believed most affected the future of South Carolina: education, industrial and economic development, and the need for a revised state constitution. In addition, he fought to retain adequate tariff protection for the textile industry in South Carolina and advocated establishing a second medical college.

In 1970 West was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for governor, though Columbia mayor Lester Bates had considered seeking the nomination. The general election, however, offered two very different candidates and visions for South Carolina‘s future. West was opposed by Republican Congressman Albert Watson. Watson had been elected to Congress in 1962 as a Democrat, but supported Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign. As a result, the Democratic House leadership stripped him of his seniority. Watson resigned his seat, switched to the Republican Party, and, in the June 1965 special election to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation, he was re-elected to Congress as a Republican.

Watson was a fiery campaigner. His campaign literature proclaimed him "A man of courage, character, and conviction for a time of crisis." His campaign emphasized his opposition to busing to achieve racial integration in public schools, his fiscal conservatism, "selectivity" in industrial development, and support for textiles and agriculture. However, Watson‘s campaign was tarnished by an incident occurring in Lamar, South Carolina, located in Darlington County, which had been ordered by federal courts to integrate its schools in January 1970. In late February, Watson appeared at a rally supporting "freedom of choice" in Lamar, telling the crowd, "Every section of this state is in for it unless you stand up and use every means at your disposal to defend against what I consider an illegal order of the Circuit Court of the United States." A few days later, on March 3, school buses carrying black children were attacked and overturned by a mob in Lamar. Many saw Watson‘s speech as a factor in inciting the violence.

The bitter campaign highlighted strong ideological differences between the two candidates. Indeed, West campaigned with the slogan, "Elect a Good Man Governor." West won the office, receiving approximately fifty-three percent of the ballot.

John West became governor during a time of change and racial conflict. As Lieutenant Governor, West had dealt with racial problems in Lamar and Orangeburg as well as the process of public school integration statewide. His election as governor was seen by many, including West himself, as a repudiation of divisive, racial politics. In his inaugural address, January 19, 1971, West declared, "we can, and we shall, in the next four years eliminate from our government any vestige of discrimination because of race, creed, sex, religion, or any other barriers to fairness for all citizens. We pledge minority groups no special status other than full-fledged responsibility in a government that is totally color-blind." To help fulfill this promise he created the state‘s Commission on Human Relations. West was also the first governor in over a century to appoint an African-American to an official state position when he named James E. Clyburn assistant to the governor for Human Resource Development.

Among West‘s major accomplishments as governor were the passage of mandatory automobile insurance for all drivers; the creation of the Advisory Council for Comprehensive Health Planning, the Coastal Zone Planning and Management Council, the Housing Authority, and Human Affairs Commission; and the reorganization of the governor‘s office and the Departments of Labor and of Wildlife and Marine Resources.

After leaving office, West returned to private law practice with the goal of building a statewide firm with national and international interests. However, the election of his friend Jimmy Carter to the presidency in 1976 spurred rumors that West might return to public life, perhaps with a seat in Carter‘s Cabinet as a reward for West‘s strong support and as an acknowledgment of the esteem Carter had for West. Instead, West, who had become active in Dean Rusk‘s Southern Center for International Studies, expressed an interest in the Foreign Service generally and Saudi Arabia specifically. In May 1977, President Carter appointed West Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Historically, Saudi Arabia had not been the site of a major trade or military presence for the United States, but that changed with the energy crisis and with the Saudis‘ importance as a moderating influence in the Arab-Israeli conflict. As governor, West had established business relationships in the Middle East, particularly with Kuwaiti investors who purchased Kiawah Island. In 1976, he had led a State Development Board trade mission to the Middle East, and established a firm to assist American companies in breaking into Middle Eastern markets. To supplement this knowledge, West spent about two months in Washington receiving briefings on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East before departing for his post. In his remarks at his ambassadorial swearing-in ceremony, West proclaimed, "Saudi Arabia is the key to energy, capital and to peace in the Middle East." Earlier, President Carter had noted that the two nations "share a common purpose...we share a heritage that is completely compatible.... We know that this is an important period of a search for peace, and our visits today and tomorrow will be designed to accommodate that search in the face of tremendous challenge, but at the same time tremendous opportunities."

As ambassador, West maintained the same basic approach he had followed as governor and in his private dealings with the Middle East, an approach he frequently summed up as "Good business makes good politics." The Wests spent four eventful years working to strengthen the links between the United States and this vital Middle Eastern nation. Despite the fact that he was the first political appointee, rather than career diplomat, to serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, West‘s tenure was generally viewed, particularly by the Saudis, as successful. West, in his oral history interview, pointed to the Saudis‘ respect for his close friendship with Carter and to his willingness to work around bureaucracy to get things done as the keys to his success: "I just did what I thought needed to be done. I knew it was unconventional, but the Saudis loved it." In 1994, Edward J. Wunder of the United States/Saudi Arabia Standards Cooperation Program wrote to West, "It‘s well known that you have been the best, the most effective, productive, respected, admired and well liked U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With the arrival of our new Ambassador Raymond Mabus, I‘m sure the Royal Family requested a political ambassador based on your outstanding record of achievement some years ago." Similarly, West commented in his oral history that "when Ray Mabus was appointed, [King] Fahd told the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, Send me another 'John West,' which was one of the biggest accolades I ever got."

Returning from Saudi Arabia in 1981, West settled on Hilton Head Island and returned to the practice of law. He maintained his interest and involvement in the Middle East, particularly in business, and worked sporadically as a consultant to American firms looking to partner with Saudi investors or sell to Saudi markets. West also became Distinguished Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of South Carolina and a frequent guest lecturer in other political science courses. He served for a time as Chairman of the Board of the Seibels Bruce Insurance Company and continued his work in a number of philanthropic enterprises. He passed away on March 21, 2004.


Donated by The Honorable John Carl West and Mrs. Lois R. West


Some documents in the collection pertaining to West’s ambassadorship contain classified information as judged by the U.S. Department of State. These documents have been removed or redacted by State.


Copyright of the John Carl West Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina

Processing Information

Processed by Cynthia Luckie and Laird Whitmire, 1996-1998; additions by Dorothy Hazelrigg, 2006-2007.

Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA

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