First black alderwoman remembered for actions, heart

Published 12:04am Sunday, July 7, 2013

NATCHEZ — When Artimese West was appointed to her husband’s vacated alderman’s seat in 1981, she didn’t just sit back and think of herself as a symbolic appointment.

West, the first black woman to serve on the Natchez Board of Aldermen, died Thursday at age 94.

Former Natchez Mayor Tony Byrne said at the time that West’s husband — George F. West Sr. — died, it was customary for the board to appoint the widow of someone who died in office to serve out the term or until a special election could be held, but Artimese West ended up serving until 1985 because the election was delayed in part due to redistricting following the 1980 census.

And she took that time in office as more than just a symbolic duty, Byrne said.

“Most of the time when you put a widow on, she took the paycheck and waited for the next election, but Artimese and Peggy Middleton, who came on the board at about the same time, both took the job very seriously,” Byrne said.

“She wasn’t just a figurehead, she went to work and was very, very active.”

During and after her time as an alderwoman, West worked for city beautification, Byrne said.

Former Alderman Hall Wilson said there was little way words could do West justice.

“She put her heart into it and really was a good alderwoman,” Wilson said. “I have always thought the world of her — she was a really fine lady.”

Bluff City Post Publisher William Terrell said West was a person who wanted to maintain a low-key personality, but was always sociable and friendly.

“She never did anything to try to make a statement, but whatever she did was for the betterment of the community,” he said.

West also operated the flower shop at West funeral home, and Terrell said she knew how to treat people when they entered the business.

“She was very gracious when you came into the funeral home, and she always knew how to make you feel very comfortable,” he said.

West had seven children, and the National Council of Negro Women gave her the distinguished family award in the 1980s.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Godfather and Brothers Club and the Natchez Business and Civic League for also recognized West for her work in the community.

West family members said Saturday funeral arrangements are pending.