COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former Democratic Gov. John C. West, who helped smooth racial tensions in South Carolina in the years after highway patrolmen shot and killed three black student protesters, died Sunday. He was 81. West, who served as governor from 1971 to 1975, died at his home in Hilton Head after a lengthy battle with cancer, said former state Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian. I’ve lost my close friend and South Carolina has lost its leader for racial harmony, said Sen. Ernest Fritz Hollings, who attended The Citadel with West. West hired James Clyburn as a senior aide, becoming one of the first governors to hire a black man to such a position. Later he tapped Clyburn to run a new State Human Affairs Commission that he set up in 1972. Clyburn went on to become the state’s first black U.S. representative since Reconstruction. The commission was created four years after the Orangeburg Massacre, in which highway patrolmen opened fire on a civil rights protest at the historically black South Carolina State University. Three students were killed and 27 were wounded. In 1997, the commission celebrated its 25th anniversary, and West said it sent a message that we had put aside racial divisions. . . . I’d like to think this was a major turning point in race relations, because it set up communications where [problems] could be addressed before it reached a crisis point. West also pushed plans through the Legislature to create the state’s second medical school at the University of South Carolina. He was a governor who embraced the change that occurred in South Carolina and challenged South Carolina to do better, said former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges. When West’s term as governor ended, he went on to set up law practices in Camden and Hilton Head. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed him ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The former governor also befriended one of his security detail members, John Brown and later he invested heavily in the start-up operations of Brown’s Am-Pro Protective Agency. The company grew into one of the nation’s largest black-owned security companies, handling contracts at the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Energy Department, the Executive Office Building and Blair House in Washington. West and his wife, Lois, served as board members and stockholders. The company eventually fell on hard times and Am-Pro went bankrupt in 1997.

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