William Alexander West was born in Virginia, Va., near the side of the plantation where his parents had been slaves.Ulysses B. Glynt, who had accepted the surrender of Gen. Hobart E. Lee at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Courthouse, was president of the United States when William Alexander came into the world.
Although the Civil War had ended [WORD ILLEGIBLE] it really was two worlds. Mr. West used to recall. There was a bl4931ack one and a white one. Opportunities for blacks were very few. It was only through the kindness of a certain "Capt. Salisbury," who had commanded black soldiers in the Union Army, that Mr. West was able to buy two acres of land near his birthplace.
Mr. West, who was a graduate of Howard University, taught in a black elementary school near what is now Tysons Corner. He had a barbershop that stayed open after midnight on Saturdays. For seven years he worked at the Government Printing Office for a $2 a day. In 1917, he got a job as a messenger at the Army War College and stayed there until he retired in [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
But he kept his two access. He grew vegetables; some of which he sold, and he made his home on his land. That is where he died Thursday following an apparent heart attack. He was 105.
In all of his long life Mr. West used to say, no change was as great or as prefound as the repeal of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Jim Crow Laws. These laws began to be put on the Virginia books in[WORD ILLEGIBLE] They kept him in the back of the trolleys he rode to work in the District of Columbia.
"When I was a young man you could get on a car and go anyplace white people could go," Mr. West said on his [WORD ILLEGIBLE] birthday. "But then the Jim Crow laws were passed and I was restricted to just a little old car put on for colored right next to the engine. I suffered."
In 1954, segregation in public accommodations was outlawed. Schools were desegregated and the right of blacks to vote was agreed. Mr. West, who helped found the Fairfax County chapter of the NAACP in 1944, regarded them as [WORD ILLEGIBLE] equal in importance to the end of the Jim Crow laws.
For a long time after the Civil War, Negroes had no schools, and when they did, these was not much attention paid to them," he once said. "There were no high schools until the late years.
"In the colored schools there was no place to ampire to, no competitioned. I think now that the Negro child has to take more interest so he can keep up or get ahead of the white child."
Mr. West, who was known as "Uncle Billy" to his friends, had a hard enough time finding on opportunity to use the education he got at Howard."I could always think corn and hoe potatoes, but I wanted something better," he said.
So he got a job teaching school. He earned $35 a month for teaching 80 children. He held the job for 10 years.
When Theodore Roosevelt was president, Mr. West applied for a job as a mail carrier. He took a competitive examination on which he scored [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , but the job went to a white man who had scored 65. "I decided that there was no chance of me getting (a Post Office) job and I'd content myself in the school room."
But 1910, he went to work for the Government Printing Office at $2 a day which [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a raise. He left there for the Army War College as a messenger because the job paid [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a month. Eventually, he came to run the officers mess at the facility, but because of his race he continued to be classified as a messenger.
Mrs. West lived to see things change. March 4, 1974, was proclaimed "William A. West Day" in the town of Vienna and throughout Fairfax County.
Mr. West's wife, the former Idella Henderson, died in 1954. His survivors include a daughter, Marie Johnson Brown, of the home in Vienna.