Story gives students civil rights insight

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 10, 1999

On a dark, January night in 1965, Phillip West and his father, Sam, found themselves pulled into the Civil Rights Movement.

While they were driving down a Franklin County road, West said, someone tried to take their lives.

&uot;I could have been killed if I had not been blessed by God to be standing here today,&uot; said West, now a state representative from Natchez. He was 18 at the time of the incident.

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He and his father were almost in a car wreck trying to get away that night, West added.

West told the story Friday while speaking to a class at the Central Alternative School.

A suspect in the incident was never charged although the Wests were able to memorize his license plate number.

&uot;The person had allegedly killed another black person,&uot; West said.

Other than that story, West, who said he is certain the incident was an attack by the Ku Klux Klan, is leery about giving more details.

He talked with the students to share his Civil Rights-era experiences and to encourage them to learn. &uot;Knowledge is the key to your being successful,&uot;&160;he said.

He also stressed the importance of the Constitution. &uot;It’s intended to make sure all people in this country are protected,&uot; West said.

After the murder attempt, West said he felt led to become involved in civil rights and eventually politics.

&uot;I saw it as a sign for what I needed to do with my life,&uot; West said.

After West finished speaking, the students asked him some pointed questions, everything from his knowledge of the KKK to the details of the murder attempt.

West said he is glad he and his father where not armed that night because he believes someone could have been killed.

&uot;We would have been in jail, because we were black and he was a white person,&uot;&160;West said.

West told the students that knowledge is key to preventing hate crimes.

&uot;The less understanding you have, the more you tend to be hateful of others,&uot; West said.

Self-esteem is also important, he said.

&uot;If you think something of yourself, you don’t have any reason to look down on others,&uot;&160;he said.