Insectman Home
Contact Us
My Testimony
Our Links
Get Saved
Exodus Mandate
The Lie: Evolution

Textbook War


The first book to tell the story of the protest from the words of the protesters is PROTESTER VOICES--The 1974 Textbook Tea Party.

'Godless Books': The 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy

By Dr. Keith Crawford (probable date 1974)

(Karl’s note: Dr. Crawford was able to provide a reasonable report of the event although he fell victim to some of the slanted news reports. The addendum was added on 10-25-2012.)


Kanawha County is a rural area in the US state of West Virginia situated at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. It covers a region of approximately 900 square miles, has a population of 210,000 which is mostly white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Charleston, the county’s principal town, has a population of approximately 50,000. In 1974 25% of the County’s work force was employed in coal mining, others had jobs in petrochemical plants, in glass and glass-product manufacturing, in wood and clay products industries and in construction: the average family income was $7,381, compared to $6,689 for the entire Appalachian Region, and $6,604 for all rural West Virginia. While poverty was widespread there was less of it in Kanawha than in other rural areas of Appalachia or West Virginia. Kanawha was also hard-core Christian fundamentalist territory and was dominated by a largely under-educated working class rooted in strong conceptions of community and powerful local ties. Yet in 1974 this small, relatively isolated and largely unknown part of West Virginia was the site of the one of the most significant, complex and violent textbook “wars” the US has ever witnessed.

In April 1974 the five members of the Kanawha County Textbook Selection Committee, supported by teacher readers from elementary and secondary schools, recommended the adoption of new textbooks designed to support an English Language programme to be taught in the County’s schools. The textbooks included a wide diversity of views and opinions and exposed children in the Appalachian region to other cultures and new ideas. Following the impact of the civil rights movement across the USA during the 1960s, the textbooks included stories and poems by, and about, African-Americans and other minorities and narrative stories emphasising tolerance and the acceptance of alternative and different traditions and cultures. The books also included approaches to pedagogy which included simulation and the development of critical thinking skills. The recommended list was presented to the Kanawha County School Board on 12th March 1974 , and the books were displayed in the Kanawha County Library for public examination.

On 16th May when the Textbook Selection Committee presented its adoption justification the School Board agreed to make a final decision on 27th June regarding the formal adoption of the books. The decision to consider adopting the books caused uproar in the community and in a nine month period between April 1974 and January 1975, mobs throwing rocks forced the County’s one hundred and twenty four public schools to close, demonstrators surrounded schools and blockaded school bus garages, two people were shot, schools were dynamited and firebombed and teachers were threatened. Coal miners went on strike in support of the protest, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in the streets of Charleston and a preacher and his followers discussed murdering families who wouldn’t join the school boycott (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993).

The aim of this chapter is to analyse the origins and significance of these events for our understanding of the cultural politics of education. The paper begins by exploring the ideological and political context within which such conflicts emerge through a discussion of the relationship between Christian fundamentalism, politics and textbook knowledge where the Kanawha experience represented one of the first forays by religious pressure groups into local politics. This is followed by an analysis of the dispute which illustrates these connections before the paper other some thoughts about the significance of such events for our understanding of the relationship between education, culture and politics.

Textbooks, Christian Fundamentalism and Social Change

At the heart of the debate over the school curriculum is the production, control and dissemination of knowledge which reflects key power struggles in education. For educators seeking to understand what it is that schools do exploring this process is crucial because of the potential impact such knowledge has upon pupil beliefs and attitudes. Lying at the heart of knowledge dissemination is the school textbook which symbolises the dominant definition of the curriculum in schools and is a powerful representation of political, cultural, economic and political battles and compromises. Schoolbooks are a reflection of the prevailing political and cultural aims of a society and as such are the ultimate mirrors of power. Therefore, it should of no surprise when a wide variety of groups, educational, ideological and political, holding competing and contradictory sets of values, seek to dominate both the production and dissemination of the cultural knowledge that is mediated through textbooks.

Today textbook “wars” in the USA , and in many other nation states, are a constant, volatile and highly politicised feature of providing public education. Unlike the UK , the selection of school textbooks in the USA is dominated by intense cultural conflict and takes place within a context within which powerful and competing interest groups struggle to control what gets taught in schools. The process of textbook selection in many states is lengthy and consumed by controversy. Since the late 1970s highly sophisticated and well financed campaigns by Christian fundamentalist groups across the USA have resulted in numerous books either being banned from schools or being withdrawn from the adoption process by publishers seeking to protect what is a highly lucrative market.

The majority of the Christian right in the USA define themselves as conservative and fundamentalist. Kosmin and Lachman (1993) have estimated that fundamentalists comprise approximately 20% of the USA’s population and that they “… tend to be more rural, more southern, less affluent and less well educated than the rest of the population” (1993:197); they invariably adopt ultra-conservative positions on educational issues. Where they find an issue of interest, fundamentalist Christians find the politics of pragmatism anathema, to bargain and negotiate is to compromise core beliefs. The Christian right are well organised, well funded, and politically powerful, they often attend school board meetings, textbook adoption meetings, and other community forums where issues of family, youth, and schooling arise. The root of a Christian fundamentalist position is that the State controlled education system may provide opportunities for pupils to be introduced to the teaching of scientific creationism; to anti-family, pro-homosexual, anti-American books and to cultural relativism (Diamond, 1989; Gaddy, Hall, & Marzano 1996). Christian right educator Robert Thoburn, has claimed that “… public schools are immoral ... they breed criminals. They teach [children] they’re animals that they evolved from animals” (quoted in Gehrman, 1987:14). Thoburn urged Christians to run for school boards but not to reveal their motives:

“Christians should run for the school board. This may sound like strange advice. After all, I have said that Christians should have nothing to do with the public schools. What I meant was that Christians should not allow their children to have anything to do with public schools. This does not mean that we should have nothing to do with them.... Our goal is not to make the schools better.... The goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow. . . . Our goal as God-fearing, uncompromised ... Christians is to shut down the public schools, not in some revolutionary way, but step by step, school by school, district by district”(1986:159).

The significance of the Kanawha textbook dispute is that it provides an important framework within which to explore how during the past thirty years the Christian and political right in the USA have found common ground in their crusade against what they view as moral relativism and attacks upon tradition, patriotism, religion and heritage. Jack Maurice, editor of the Charleston Daily Mail during the dispute wrote “Most Americans have been brought up to esteem patriotism, as the hallmark of their citizenship and good fortune. They were brought up, or trained, in this way because their parents and teachers wanted it that way. They wanted a generation of Americans conditioned to loyalty and duty”(Editorial, Charleston Daily Mail, 7th December 1974).

The Kanawha dispute took place within a cultural and ideological environment strongly characterised by a national liberal resurgence and a powerful conservative backlash which was itself acted out within the context of the politics and tensions associated with the accelerating social changes that were sweeping the USA . The 1960s and 1970s were decades of profound change and us such provided perfect territory upon which Christian fundamentalist could fight their cause. For Maurice there was a “… a vague sense that everything was coming apart at the seams.”(Editorial, Charleston Daily Mail, 4th September 1974). Christian fundamentalists and their allies on the political right saw themselves engaged in a struggle against social anarchy as they attempted to bolster a hegemony threatened by social permissiveness. Underpinning this struggle was what Apple (1993) has called the politics of resentment. Apple writes:

“Behind the Conservative agenda is a clear sense of loss: of control, of economic and personal security, of the knowledge and values that should be passed on to children, of visions of what counts as sacred texts and authority. The binary opposition of ‘we’ and ‘they'’ become important here. ‘We’ are law abiding, ‘hard working, decent, virtuous and homogeneous’. The ‘theys’ are very different. They are lazy, permissive, heterogeneous ... the subjects of discrimination are now no longer those groups who have been historically oppressed but are instead the ‘real Americans’ and the ‘real Britons’ who embody the idealised virtues of a romanticised past.” (1993: 7-8)

The steep mountains surrounding each Appalachian valley have for centuries given rise to a sense of isolation and strong ties not simply in geographical terms but also in terms of values. This isolation coupled with the very real hardships of survival have tended to instil in Appalachian inhabitants a moral and ethical code and a lifestyle which focus upon a profound dependence upon family, independence, a sense of fatalism in facing whatever misfortunes might come and a deep belief in religion and salvation. In these communities the local church powerfully helps shape peoples lives in a manner which produces a secure and intimate connection between culture and religion.

Improved living standards, improved communications and transportation systems challenged the independence, insularity and seclusion of rural communities which began to be exposed to fundamental questions facing American society. The impact of the Civil Rights movement; youth alienation; the women’s liberation movement; the anti Vietnam war movement; the emerge of a drug culture, sexual revolution and crime, threatened people’s core values and saw them, through religion, retreat into cultural restorationism. The next section weaves together these issues and themes through a case study analysis of the Kanawha dispute before making some conclusions about textbooks, cultural wars and the politics of culture.

Chronology of the Dispute

The catalyst around which organised protest over the adoption of the books coalesced was Alice Moore, the wife of a fundamentalist minister, who had been active in community politics since the late 1960s. Moore had supported the Reverend Charles Meadows, who went before the West Virginia Legislature in 1969 to demand a return of the death penalty declaring that he would be “… glad to pull the switch myself”(Charleston Gazette, 13th October 1993). Meadows also attacked the teaching of sex education in Kanawha County schools, hiring a theatre he held rallies at which he spoke against the “pornography” of sex education. In 1970 Moore stood for election to the School Board in order to promote this agenda. Claiming that sex education was part of a “…humanistic, atheistic attack on God”(Charleston Gazette, 13th October 1993), Moore found considerable support among local church groups that contributed significant amounts of time and money to her election which she won.

In early April 1974, Moore turned her attention to the adopted books which, she claimed, threatened local values were anti-Christian, full of anti-American themes, contained foul language, inappropriate English usage, and morally relativist messages. Moore took the books to public libraries, churches, and community gatherings, read selected passages and campaigned for organised opposition. Moore is reported as having said “I want to see something patriotic in those books” and that they were “… trashy, filthy, one- sided” (Charleston Daily Mail, 24th May 1974:4). Among other complaints was the use of open-ended questions to encourage independent thought and analysis. “Parents complained that questions concerning the students’ feelings, their experiences and their home life constitute an invasion of privacy. They have contended, also, that students should not be asked what they think or how they should behave; they should be told what to think and how to behave” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State 1975:345).

Throughout June 1974 Moore and supporters from the Christian fundamentalist community toured the County distributing posters and pamphlets containing selected lines from the adopted books. Fundamentalists ministers, Avis Hill, Marvin Horan, Charles Quigley and Ezra Graley, joined Moore ’s campaign and together the group formed a powerful coalition aimed at ensuring that the textbooks were banned. Petitions were circulated asking that textbooks be excluded which:

“Demean, encourage scepticism, or foster disbelief in the institutions of the United States of America and in Western civilization. We submit that among these institutions are the following:

  • • The family unit emerges from the marriage of man and woman;
  • • Belief in a Supernatural Being, or a power beyond ourselves, or a power beyond our comprehension;
  • • The political system set forth in the Constitution of the United States of America . The economic system commonly referred to as free enterprise where the exchange of goods and services is governed by the forces of supply and demand rather than a central governmental authority;
  • • Respect for the laws of the Nation, the State, and its subdivisions and for the judicial system which administers those laws;
  • • The history and heritage of this nation as the record of one of the noblest civilizations that has existed;
  • • Respect for the property of others;
  • • Advocate, suggest, or imply that traditional rules governing the grammar and vocabulary of the English language are not a proper and worthwhile subject for academic pursuit and do not, in fact, constitute the means by which well-educated people communicate most effectively.”(West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State, 1975:341).

Across the County, 12,000 individuals signed the petition. What emerged strongly was a sense of local independence and the intense distrust of officialdom that was felt by the local community. In evidence to the NEA enquiry into the Kanawha events, Marvin Horan said:

“We are very sceptical of what people want to do with us or to us, especially those that are in authority, because we’ve been put through the wringers of deceit by the courts, by the lawyers, by the Board of Education, and we just don’t feel that we can jeopardize any more of our integrity to the likes of this. So we have decided to come together and stand together until the books are removed” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State, 1975:337).

The Reverend Lewis Harrah, Pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ in North Charleston , illustrated the unequivocal nature of opposition:

“The standards and articles of faith of our church rest completely in our belief that the Bible is the absolute, infallible Word of God. We do not intend to compromise our beliefs … this is not a situation where opposing views can be reconciled. As you well know, there are some things that are somewhat like night and day, darkness and light-they are beyond the point of reconciliation. There is no dusk or dawn or in between or neutral zone. There is a line drawn and the people stand either to the right or to the left of it. . . .This is the root of the problem. There is a line that broadens with every passing day. A vast vacuum has developed in our community” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State, 1975:337).

For the protesters their Christian fundamentalist beliefs led them to the conclusion that God ruled their nation and their world. The educational principles supported by the religious right took a firm and unequivocal stand on this position. The value judgments by which they lived their life included love of country, love of God, the necessity to develop habits of thrift, honesty and hard work, the certainty of progress and the perfection of the United States . These could not to be questioned, no deviation from these basic values was possible. In his exploration of the impact of Christian fundamentalism upon the political culture of the USA , Martin in With God on Our Side, places these values within a context in which:

“… one aspect of a fearsome world is that absence of reliable road signs, the textbook critics assailed readings that smacked of moral relativity, that is, the belief that there are no definite right and wrong answers. Closely related was a distaste for symbolism, irony, satire, ambiguity, or role-playing, since all these invite interpretations that diverge from a literal reading of the text. In their view, schoolbooks — like the Bible — should have one meaning and one only, and it should be obvious to all. Cultivating a taste and talent for multiple interpretations can only increase the likelihood of thought and behaviour that call into question the settled and dependable nature of one’s community and religion.” (Martin, 1989:23).

Westbury offers a view of the power of textbooks which is useful for understanding the ideological position adopted by the protesters:

“The values and attitudes that are taught in schools are of obvious and central interest to the parents of school children, and to those who are concerned with the social futures that the patterns of schooling seem to foreshadow or with the world-view that the schools seem to reflect at a given time. When the values that the schools reflect become inconsistent with the values that groups or individuals hold as important or critical to their futures, bias is often claimed. This charge reflects, however, the perspective of the person or persons making the charge: It can be made when schooling seems to threaten the rejection or denigration of traditional values of religion and morality, nationality, race or ethnicity, sex roles and sexuality and the like, or it can be made because schooling reflects these values” (Westbury, 1982:31)

The parents who attacked the books were seeking authority over their children’s minds. The role of the schools, as they saw it, was to reproduce an idealized version of the dominant culture rather than to critique it in any way.

James Moffett conducted extensive interviews with protestors and examined the testimony given before the textbook adoption committee, his study of the controversy, published in 1988 as Storm in the Mountains: A Case Study of Censorship, Conflict, and Consciousness, used the protesters words to analyse a state of mind he called “agnosis”, or a fear of knowing. Moffett describes this condition thus:

“One does not acquire knowledge, one inherits it from one’s group. The individual does not learn on his or her own and know things that others of the group do not know. People know collectively and know the same things (a standardized curriculum). Not wanting to know means not wanting to know more than the inheritance, more than fellow members know, more than fits into the group knowledge. What is fit to know is known already. Anything else spells danger or disloyalty.... Individuals who know other things may act in other ways and go other ways. They “err” and “sin.” (1988:207)

Parents were so vigorously involved in attacking the textbooks because they “… feared losing their children… “(1988:5) and wanted to keep their children from learning “… about alternatives of any kind - other customs, other beliefs, other values, and other courses of action” (1988:208).

In addition to local dissent, national conservative figures joined the debate. Since the early 1960s, Mel and Norma Gabler, “… the first couple of conservatism” (Clevenger, 1994), have analysed school textbooks from a Christian fundamentalist perspective. In various articles they have accused textbooks of being responsible for declining academic standards, rebellion against parental authority, sexual permissiveness, drug and alcohol addiction, divorce, abortion, pornography, child abuse, vandalism, unwanted pregnancy, communism, Satanism, and the decline of U.S. Power (Gehrman, 1987). The Gablers discussed their reasons for becoming critics in an issue of the educational journal Phi Delta Kappan where they claimed that state and regional forces threatened education and society:

“What was done suddenly through government force by Hitler has been done gradually in the United States . Government force, through schools, has gradually eliminated (banned, censored) practically all books that uphold, promote, or teach the basic values upon which our nation was founded. (1982: 96.)

The Gablers’ visited Kanawha and contributed significantly to the Kanawha dispute and their values echoed the political and ideological stance of the protesters. Norma Gabler claimed that:

“Textbooks today major in the defects and faults of our government …in our free enterprise system, and in our society. Too often they decline, or refuse to point out, the successes and achievements of our system [they have] made our youth think the American system has failed. It must be replaced. And we parents wonder why some young people are dedicated to the destruction of our American way of life. Each generation has the responsibility to pass their heritage to the succeeding generation … Today’s youth have received a distorted version of our heritage … We, the parents, should demand that a true and unbiased picture of the American system be presented to our young people ... If not, we will soon see a real revolution and the death of a great nation” (Gladewater Mirror, 28th July, 1974).

The Heritage Foundation also played a role in supporting local opposition. Founded in 1973, the Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defence. The foundation’s legal counsel, James McKenna, paid frequent visits to Kanawha County to offer advice to the protesters. The struggle of the Kanawha County parents against West Virginia ’s educational establishment was prominently featured in Conservative Digest and other New Right publications.

With a crowd of approximately 1,000 demonstrators standing outside its offices on 27th June 1974 the five member School Board met to discuss whether to adopt the textbooks, after three hours listening to evidence from supporters and critics, the board adopted the books on a 3-2 vote. Kanawha County school superintendent Ken Underwood declared that he would not ban any books and compared the protest to the book-burning days of 1930s Nazi Germany. He asked whether the Charleston school system should give rose-colored glasses to students by presenting only the pleasant facts of life, which would abolish “… our responsibility as educators by letting students leave school with a distorted-perhaps unhealthy-view of the world as it exists”(Christianity Today, 11th October 1974:45).

Opponents were outraged and organised a boycott of schools until the textbooks were removed. When schools opened for the new year in September 1974 they were picketed and 25% of the county’s 45,000 pupils were kept away. During the weeks that followed public education in the County was halted by the politics of violent confrontation. Those parents who wished their children to attend school found their way blocked by demonstrators. Some teachers and parents needed a police escort to make their way past angry crowds that gathered daily at school gates, teachers received death threats and others decided to keep the blinds in their classroom drawn to prevent potential snipers from targeting them.

So severe became the intimidation that the School Board was granted a court injunction preventing protestors from disrupting the work of schools and on 9th September US Marshals arrested three women attempting to prevent children entering a school. Throughout the early days of September the protest gathered momentum, on 3rd September 2,000 demonstrators attended an anti-textbook rally at Campbell’s Creek and the next day 3,500 coal miners went on strike in sympathy. Members of an anti-textbook group, Christian American Parents, picketed and boycotted a local business, Heck Incorporated, because Russell Isaacs, one of three School Board members who voted in favour of the books, was employed there. During the boycott the Reverend Charles Quigley prayed for God to kill the board members who endorsed the books (Gaddy, Hall, & Marzano, 1996).

On 12th September, fearing further violence and intimidation, the School Board closed the County’s schools for four days and appointed an eighteen person citizens committee to review the books, suspending their use in school pending the review. By this point the dispute had begun to escalate wildly. Pickets surrounding a school bus garage were shot at by an employee who was then badly beaten, the next day, an armed man panicked when pickets surged toward him, he fired a shot and wounded a bystander.

Against this violent background the Reverend Marvin Horan urged a return to school and work pending the outcome of the review. By 16th September schools had reopened with attendance rates at 90%. On 25th September the review committee suggested a compromise allowing parents who objected to the books to refuse permission for their children to use them in school, suggesting that the disputed texts be placed in school libraries with access for children granted only by parental permission (Charleston Daily Mail, 27th September 1999). The compromise was rejected, the protesters wanted the books permanently removed and the School Board sacked, and they insisted that the boycott continue until this happened.

October 1974 proved to be the most violent month of the protest. On 6th October, following a rally attended by 3,000 protesters calling for another boycott of schools, Avis Hill, Ezra Graley and seventeen others are arrested, placed in prison and fined for violating a court order. On 9th October the protest took a deeply disturbing turn when West Branch Elementary School in Cabin Creek was dynamited and Midway Elementary School in Campbell ’s Creek was firebombed and then dynamited. Sticks of dynamite and pipe bombs were found beneath bridges, near houses and in and around several Kanawha County schools. On 11th October Molotov cocktails were thrown at Chandler Elementary School and on 14th October Loudendale Elementary School was firebombed. Perhaps most disturbing the School Board narrowly missed being assassinated when 15 dynamite sticks went off by the gas meter of the building they were in minutes after they had left. One of the bombers testified later that he and others had considered “… bombing carloads of children as a way to stop people that was sending their kids to school, letting them learn out of books they knew was wrong” (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993:12). Against this violent background school attendance dropped to 25%.

On 9th October, Ken Underwood, announced his resignation. His resignation statement included the following:

“The other board members will remember that I opposed the action on September 12 to remove these books from the classrooms. I do not mean to criticize my associates for their action at that time. We were faced with a situation verging on anarchy. The complete removal from the classroom of what I believed to be good books was more than I could accept. I further believed that to capitulate to mob rule would only encourage such action in the future. I still believe that these are good textbooks. They are not anti-Christian and anti-American as many people would have you believe. In fact, our children have learned more about un-American and unchristian behaviour in the past few weeks from some of the adult population than the schools could teach in 12 years. I personally believe that the books which were adopted should be restored to the classrooms as soon as possible and this dispute settled the American way in the courts and the political arena rather than on the streets with mob rule and terrorism” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State, 1975:343).

Following the review on 8th November 1974 , the School Board voted 4-l to return all of the books to the schools. However, they also decided that:

“… no student be required to use a book that is objectionable to that student’s parents on either moral or religious grounds. The parents of each student shall have the opportunity to present a written signed statement to the principal of the school, listing the books that are objectionable for that parent’s child. That no teacher is authorized to indoctrinate a student to follow either moral values or religious beliefs which are objectionable to either the student or the student’s parents” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State, 1975:343).

Coal miners’ wives block a coal truck entrance

On 21 st November 1974 , the School Board adopted a new set of guidelines for future textbook adoptions requiring that:

  • 1. Textbooks for use in the classrooms of Kanawha County shall recognize the sanctity of the home and emphasize its importance as the basic unit of American society.
  • 2. Textbooks must not intrude into the privacy of students’ homes by asking personal questions about the inner feelings or behaviour of themselves or their parents by, direct question, statement or inference.
  • 3. Textbooks must not contain profanity.
  • 4. Textbooks must not encourage or promote racial hatred.
  • 5. Textbooks must encourage loyalty to the United States and emphasize the responsibilities of citizenship and the obligation to redress grievances through legal processes. Textbooks must not encourage sedition or revolution against our government or teach or imply that an alien form of government is superior.
  • 6. Textbooks shall teach the true history and heritage of the United States and of any other countries studied in the curriculum. Textbooks must not defame our nation’s founders or misrepresent the ideals and causes for which they struggled and sacrificed” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State 1975:346).

Despite this the violence continued, on the 12th November a school bus was hit with a shotgun blast. On 12th December the School Board meeting was heavily attended by textbook protesters some of whom carried placards announcing that they were Klu Klux Klan members. The Schools Superintendent, was sprayed with mace and two Board members were attacked, according to press reports, one was hit repeatedly and denounced as a “… nigger lover, Jew lover and Hitler lover” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State 1975:343). In evidence to the NEA enquiry, one teacher complained that:

“The English teachers, both elementary and secondary, have become frustrated as to what materials to use in their classroom. Many feel threatened and have been threatened in the outlying areas of the county. Many feel they are going to be attacked if they say the wrong thing in the classroom”(Statement to NEA Panel by Richard Clendenin, President Kanawha County Association of Teachers of English, West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State, 1975:344).

Nearly 200 protesters gathered at the state Capitol in support of Horan and the Klan. Horan turned down the Klan’s offer of legal aid, and several groups denounced its presence. During the trial it was claimed that Horan had led the dynamite plot, telling followers that it was “…a time to kill.” By December 1974 the violent aspects of the protest had ceased, the School Board had withdrawn much of the material the protesters found objectionable and the protesters began using the law rather than intimidation to fight their case.

The parental option of refusing permission for the children to use particular books was in force and the new guidelines and procedures for textbook selection, which included a more powerful voice for parents, had been implemented. By January 1975 the police authorities had gathered evidence of intimidation and other crimes and on 17th January 1975 the Reverend Marvin Horan was accused with five others by a federal grand jury of conspiring to blow up two elementary schools. The next day, he was sentenced to three years in prison and his conviction ended the protest. Other leaders lost face. Minister Meadows left his church after admitting involvement with a woman religion teacher. Minister Graley’s wife left him and School Board member Alice Moore left the state (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993)


What does the Kanawha County textbook war tell us about the political and ideological construction of school knowledge? First, that school textbooks are in a very real sense political literature and reflections of cultural history, particularly in the way they are seen as artefacts through which to strengthen national moral consciousness. Nationally, the results of the protest were significant for three reasons. First, the protests presented a powerful message to textbook publishers across the USA that if they wished their texts to be adopted then they had best ensure that they responded to the local political and cultural agendas established by parental pressure groups and their supporters. Second, the struggle brought local activists into contact with developing conservative networks which have such an impact upon textbook adoption in the USA today. Third, the dispute provided a context which helped trigger off the increased censorship of classroom and library materials and provided a catalyst for highly politicised textbooks and culture wars that continue today.

At the centre of the discourse promoted by the Kanawha protesters lay faith in the concept of “America” and what it meant to be American rooted in evangelical Christianity. At the heart of this ideology were the principles of authority, allegiance and tradition. The Kanawha protesters saw cultural changes and shifts in patterns of socio-economic and political relationships as dangerous to traditional forms of life. Running through their strand of Conservatism was a strong element of custom and practice. Aronowitz & Giroux argue that this kind of Conservatism, endorsed by what they call “aristocratic traditionalists”, is a “Frontal attack aimed at providing a programmatic language with which to defend schools as cultural sites, that is institutions responsible for reproducing the knowledge and values necessary to advance the historical virtues of Western culture” (1991:25).

The Kanawha dispute represented the mobilisation of latent antagonisms between traditionalist and modern cultures. The protesters saw the texts and their selection as emblematic of hostility to larger cultural changes imposed from above - the texts were anti-Christian, anti-free enterprise, and for those living in rural Kanawha were representative of cultural values imposed upon them from above. The textbook protesters were not only angered by what they saw as the marginalisation of their culture; they were also opposed to the positive presentation of other cultures. Moffett argued “It was precisely the totality that posed the problem for them. They wanted a highly selective, not an eclectic, package” (1988:132). What might be interpreted as a the pluralistic presentation of literary styles, political and ethical positions is exactly what many Kanawha traditionalists believed fundamentally attacked and undermined their system of values. What the Kanawha dispute reveals is a battle between complex, intertwined, sacred ideas and values at the heart of American society. This battle of ideas and values may have been played out within a seemingly minor and largely isolated context but examined closely, it reveals competing systems of meaning in specific neighbourhoods, communities and schools capitalising on national tensions and confusion regarding identity, race, ethnicity, gender and class.

(The photographs included in this paper were reproduced from among those included in the Charleston Gazzette’s report of the Kanawha dispute.)

Appendix 1

The list of language textbooks that were considered for adoption in 1974 included:

The basic textbooks series were:

Communicating D.C. Heath Publishing Co. -- for use in all elementary schools

Dynamics of Language , D.C. Heath Publishing Co. -- for use by about 80 percent of students grades 7- 12

Contemporary English , Silver Burdett Publishing Co. -- for use by about 20 percent of students grades 7-12

The supplemental titles were:

Language of Man Series , McDougal, Littell and Co.

Interaction, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Breakthrough, Allyn and Bacon Inc.

Man Series ,McDougal, Littell and Co.


Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Iliad by Homer

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Karl’s note: The photos that are included in the original document tend to cast a negative light on the protest.


Steven J. Tepper listed Dr. Crawford’s article as being available on my site in the bibliography to Not Here, Not Now, Not That!: Protest over Art and Culture in America (University of Chicago Press 2011). According to a review, “Tepper makes a strong argument that arts protests are good for democracy and not simply collateral damage from the so-called culture wars. He suggests that the art world has too often tried to silence its critics...” (

In a 2011 article [“Books versus ‘The Book’: the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy.” LARTEM e-Journal 4.1 (2011)] Dr. Crawford became more impacted by writers and researchers (such as Carol Mason and James Moffett). Also, he tried to analyze the protest using social science mumbo jumble and psychobabble (language to give an impression of plausibility through mystification, misdirection, and obfuscation--Wikipedia).

Some obvious errors in Dr. Crawford’s 2011 paper are:

Moore was joined at the centre of opposition by a collection of self-ordained preachers, Marvin Horan, a truck driver during the week; Avis Hill, a plumber by trade; Ezra Graley, who ran a roofing company; Henry Thaxton, an accountant and Charles Quigley, a full time minister. Jointly they formed The Concerned Citizens of Kanawha County a loose association of churches with an organisational base rooted within their fundamentalist congregations. (page 55) The fact is that Alice Moore was never part of any organization. The facts about the ordinations of the preachers are discussed in Not Religious Fanatics.

At the opening of the school year in September 1974, 20% of the County’s 45,000 pupils, mainly in the eastern rural areas of the County and in the East Bank and DuPont areas of Charleston... (page 56) East Bank and DuPont were in eastern Kanawha County, not Charleston.

The (Heritage) Foundation's lawyer James McKenna met with Marvin Horan and acted as legal counsel. (page 67. Mr. McKenna did not serve as legal counsel for Marvin Horan.

Some shortcomings in Dr. Crawford’s 2011 paper are:

On 11th April after the School Board voted unanimously to adopt the textbooks Alice Moore, a 29-year-old mother of four and member of the School Board, decided to take a closer look. (page 54) He neglected to mention that it was Mrs. Moore’s idea (because of state law) to adopt the books with the understanding they would not be purchased until they were reviewed by the board.

On 27th June the School Board voted to adopt the books but in the face of growing opposition agreed to drop eight objected to by critics (Hillocks 1978). The meeting unanimously agreed that an advisory committee be formed (75% parents, 25% teachers) to advise a further committee (75% teachers, 25% parents) who would make final recommendations to the Board for textbook adoption (Board of Education 27 th June, 1974). In a further response to criticism the Board proposed that ... no student be required to use a book that is objectionable to that student ’ s parents on either moral or religious grounds. (page 55) What in the world is wrong with that?

Protesters blockaded school gates and some teachers and children needed a police escort to make their way past angry crowds; teachers received death threats and some schools found themselves under police protection. (page 57) Some bus garages were briefly blocked but not school gates unless it was an isolated incident of which I am unaware. I know of no evidence of death threats to teachers or police on duty at schools. Now, due to the decline in morality, a police officer is on duty at middle and senior high campuses throughout the day.

People got shot; getting off a bus at a transfer terminal Everett Mitchell produced a gun and fired several times in the direction of a strike blockade causing minor injury to one man. Mitchell was badly beaten and taken to hospital for surgery (Charleston Gazette, September 13th, 1974). The next day at the United Parcel Service (UPS) centre Bill Noel (said to have been a pro-book advocate) claimed to have panicked when blockade protesters approached him. He fired a shot hitting Philip Cochran in the chest. (page 57) Mitchell was a pro-booker* (Charleston Gazette 9-25-1974) and Noel was DEFINITELY a pro-book leader (Charleston Gazette 9-14-1974).

The outcome of their campaign was the manufacture of a potent moral panic... (page 56) The concept of “ moral panic” (an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order-- Wikipedia) is an example of social science mumbo jumble and psychobabble. Dr. Crawford combined it with “mechanisms of fear” (page 65) to make it appear (perhaps unintentionally) that the protesters had some type of neurosis. There was some alarm (experienced by rational people) that the social order was threatened.

(O)ur teachers were met on the front stepsof the school by a parent carrying a shotgun. “Are you going in there to teach them dirty books?” “Sir,” the teacher tried to explain, “the books aren't even in our schools.” He followed them in and confronted the principal. I will never forget that image, 35 years ago, of seeing my principal, calmly sitting at a table, trying to reason with a man standing beside her with a shotgun. He left, unconvinced (Charleston Gazette 22nd August 2009). (page 58) Hmmm. I won’t say the lady is a liar, but let’s think about it. When I asked Alice Moore (in 2012) to comment on this she said, “I had never heard that one before this reference. Why wouldn't someone have called the police? And how did that fail to make the evening news? Why weren't charges filed? I can't believe anybody walked into a school with a rifle and no one slipped off to make a phone call as the principal talked with him.” Also, in 2012, Avis Hill said, "I never heard once about someone entering a school with a shot gun. Our folks may have been dumb according to the media, but we were not stupid! The Governor's State Police and Kemp Melton's Sheriff's Department would have been there right away.” As I said, THINK ABOUT IT.

What core protesters managed to do was to successfully manufacture a narrative of victimhood where they could identify themselves as victims of liberal ideology promoting left-wing, anti-American and anti-Christian hegemonic** plots. The significance of victimhood as a cultural and ideological stance is that it is a fundamental keystone in the protection of an imagined community and essential for the foundation of a unified sense of identity. (page 62) Putting aside Dr. Crawford’s petty insinuation that the protesters were picked on, it was a fact the citizens of Kanawha County were (and America has been since) under attack from a hegemony of “liberal ideology promoting left-wing, anti-American and anti-Christian” values.

In April and May 1974 Alice Moore sent some of the books to the conservative textbook analysts Mel and Norma Gabler, founders of Educational Research Analysts. (page 67) Mrs. Moore did not send books to the Mel Gablers. In an Octover23, 2012 email, Mrs. Moore wrote, “The Gablers told me they had reviewed the same books and could send me their notes, which I welcomed.  I didn't send them any books. There were relatively few major textbook publishers (about six or so), so all schools considered the same books. I was very happy to get some help in reviewing 325 books since nobody else in our district was doing it.”

As a result of the Kanawha dispute authors, editors and publishers began to engage in forms of self-censorship. (page 68) A textbook protester major critic cited in Crawford’s paper) says, as is easily concluded with logic, that was already commonly done. Moffett, James. Storm in the Mountains—A Case Study of Censorship, Conflict, and Consciousness. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 1993: ix.

Some good points in Dr. Crawford’s 2011 paper are:

He states that the Textbook War focused around the embryonic emergence of Christian fundamentalism and the politics of Conservatism. (page 52)

He pointed out that Kanawha County consisted of communities that were sustained and nourished by a cultural and moral code emphasising a profound dependence upon family and God. For many Kanawha residents religion powerfully shaped their identity and lifestyles, provided intimate alliances within community-based kinships and forged a resilient and personal connection between culture and religious belief. (page 53) That sounds like a great bunch of folks and neighbors most people would want.

Moore’s analysis of the books produced a lengthy and eclectic list of withering criticism aimed at, among others, the work of Alan Ginsberg, Malcolm X, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dick Gregory, Eldridge Cleaver , George Orwell, Arthur Miller and Lawrence Ferlinghetti ‟ s poem Christ Climbed Down accused of being anti-Christian. .. Claims were made that some children’s stories had been reinterpreted to present readers with moral and ethical dilemmas concerning right and wrong that undermined the values of Kanawha parents; including suggesting that the Bible could be interpreted as a set of mythical stories rather than, as was claimed, the literal word of God (Lewis & Hennan 1991***). (page 54) I cannot explain the individual objection sot each author. Some of their work was acceptable. The tendancy towad degradation, ant-Americanism, and hostility to Christianity is easy to ascertain. Ginsberg was a sodomite, pro-communist, who “talked openly about his connections with Communism and his admiration for past communist heroes...”--Wikipedia) who promoted illegal drug use and glorified LSD. Malcolm X was a Muslim who advocated Black Nationalism—which was the opposite of the multiculturalism that pro-bookers proudly promoted. Gwendolyn Brooks is discussed on the Not Racist page. Gregory, while doing some good things, is another example of a poor role model for young people. He was part of a leftist feminist and socialist political party in the 1960s. He did have strong religious convictions. He “advocated the attainment of oneness with a “Godself,” which he believed was the most complete state of being.” from page 181 of Protester Voices—The 1974 Textbook Tea Party. At the time, Cleaver was an unrepentant rapist. Latter he born again Christian, but his book about that never made it on to a Kanawha County Schools book adoption. Orwell was a socialist. Miller was an atheist. As for the Ferlinghett poem, Alice Moore said it well in a10-23-2012 email to me. “That it points out the commercialization of Christmas does not bother me, but the last stanza is so offensive, so crudely demeaning of the Eternal God, so flippantly degrading and disregarding, I can hardly stand to read it. If it is illegal to allow reverence for the God of heaven and earth to be displayed in public schools, in a pretense of 'Separation of Church and State,' how can it be legal to allow modernists, secularists and atheists to demean Him in the same setting?”

Alice Moore was provided with police protection and forced to leave Kanawha for a short while to ensure her safety (Foerstel 2002***). (page 57) Almost all one reads is about how threatened the pro-bookers were. Alice Moore told me (email 10-23-2012) that four police officers once escorted her down stairs from an executive session to a board meeting at the board of education building.

Appalachian writer Denise Giardina, who grew up in a West Virginia coal camp and worked as a substitute teacher in Kanawha during the dispute writes I shared the anger of a powerless people at the erosion of traditional mountain values, yet I could not join in the protest against multicultural school textbooks. I still lived up a holler, but I fled each Sunday to a local Episcopal church to worship with people who disdained the ways of ‘crickers’. (page 60) There you go. Sounds like hateful snobs doesn’t it?

Not all protesters were motivated by racism and some Christian conservative members of the black community in Charleston were opposed to the books. Nevertheless, racist abuse was hurled at meetings, racist signs erected, school buildings vandalized with Klu Klux Klan and Nazi symbols, burning crosses appeared at several places in and around Charleston and white supremacists attended protest rallies (Charleston Gazette 19 th October, 1974; NEA 1975; Mason 2009). (page 61) The sources cited are suspect as detailed in Protester Vocies—The 1974 Textbook Tea Party. When I asked Alice Moore to comment Alice Moore (in 2012) she said, “ Where are the pictures? Where are the quotes and people who did such things identified? I don't remember seeing any pictures of Nazi symbols anywhere even though I saw pictures of vandalized classrooms. Also, I don't remember KKK racist signs erected.” See Not Racists for proof the protest was not racially motivated.

For many protesters the books were evocative of a liberalized, bankrupt and permissive America that had become increasingly infected with a cultural, moral and political pollution generating anarchy and chaos. (page 63) BINGO!

We see in the attitudes of Kanawha protesters a perception that, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, gathered significant support in America and continues to appear in the grassroots politics of the libertarian and conservative Tea Party movement, that of local, state and national bureaucracies that are said to treat ordinary people with disrespect... (page 63) Correct. The protest did launch the modern conservative movement. Several scholars recognize that as quoted on Protester Voices—The 1974 Textbook Tea Party.

Despite the fact that opposition to the books cut across traditional socio-economic and class-based distinctions, there existed a genuine and pervasive impression among protesters that their apprehensions were considered unreasonable, nonsensical and originated from a collective of obdurate, ignorant, poorly educated, rural racists and religious fanatics. A perceived disregard of parental concerns was an early cause of the dispute within a context where “… for a number of years, the school system had failed to communicate effectively with its rural communities and to involve them sufficiently in the development of educational objectives and programs” (Seltzer 1974, 432***). Apple’s suggestion that people often “become right ‟ due to their interactions with unresponsive institution (Apple 2003***) illustrates a key point of an emerging discourse within protest groups. (pages 63-64) This would go good on the Pertinent Points collection.

One protesting coalminer put this concisely in claiming that "We built these schools with our sweat and taxes and, son, no bureaucrat is going to tell me that my kid has to learn garbage"(Quoted in Seltzer, 1974,432***). An Evangelical youth pastor claimed that “Most of the trouble would never have happened if the superintendent would have climbed out of that ivory tower and said, “I’m here to listen to you, not as your superior, but as an equal, as a fellow citizen. Express your concerns. How can we address it?” (Edds quoted in Martin 1997, 132). (page 64) Mike Edds was a friend who attended church with me. He was bright and articulate. He was correct. So was the coal miner.

The construction of this discourse saw Kanawha protestors lay claim to traditional core values and beliefs imbedded within American culture such as democracy, justice, freedom and rights and re-make them in opposition to the America said to be symbolised in the textbooks and in support of cultural, social and political community they endorsed. (page 65) The protesters proudly proclaimed those values and beliefs and so did almost 100% of Americans.

In its appeal to intuitive notions of anti-State and anti-intellectual commonsense authoritarian populism found a ready home in the nascent views of the Kanawha protesters, it was able to do so because it relies upon the belief that political good sense does not rest with the theoretical posturing of experts but within the accumulated experience, knowledge and commonsense of the community. (pages 65-66) I’ll take a person with common sense over a politician with expertise anytime!

The success of the Conservative movement throughout the 1980s and 1990s that spawned, among others, Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Karl Rove was not foisted upon the American nation through a right-wing conspiracy but emerged from the fears, ambitions and politics that were a consequence of incidents such as the Kanawha dispute. (page 66) A similar recognition was made above (page 63).

In April and May 1974 Alice Moore sent some of the books to the conservative textbook analysts Mel and Norma Gabler, founders of Educational Research Analysts. In the midst of the dispute Norma Gabler claimed that Textbooks today major in the defects and faults of our government …in our free enterprise system, and in our society. Too often they decline, or refuse to point out, the successes and achievements of our system [they have] made our youth think the American system has failed. It must be replaced. And we parents wonder why some young people are dedicated to the destruction of our American way of life. Each generation has the responsibility to pass their heritage to the succeeding generation … Today' s youth have received a distorted version of our heritage … We, the parents, should demand that a true and unbiased picture of the American system be presented to our young people ... If not, we will soon see a real revolution and the death of a great nation (quoted in The Gladewater Mirror, 28th July, 1974). (page 66) I asked Mrs. Moore (2012) if she sent the books to the Gablers. She said, “Not correct. The Gablers told me they had reviewed the same books and could send me their notes, which I welcomed. I didn't send them any books. There were relatively few major textbook publishers (about six or so), so all schools considered the same books. I was very happy to get some help in reviewing 325 books since nobody else in our district was doing it.” What Mr. Gabler said has proven prophetic.

The Kanawha dispute represents one of the earliest forays of the politicized Christian and fundamentalist right into educational politics and there is no doubting its success. (page 67) See the comment immediately above.

The Heritage Foundation, now an influential lobby group and in 1975 establishing itself as a conservative think-tank, supported and helped organise opposition . (page 67) Sadly, the Heritage Foundation has forgot its roots and has gotten “too big for its britches” and would not recognize Protester Voices—The 1974 Textbook Tea Party.

(T)he dispute brought to the fore fundamental questions that continue to resonate in many parts of the world regarding how the school textbook can be seen by ideologically and politically motivated groups as a vehicle through which to educate and liberate or to indoctrinate and impede. (page 68) EXACTLY!!

While there is a significant body of writing suggesting that textbooks in many nations represent the success of hegemonic battles waged by powerful and dominant groups, the Kanawha experience warns us to be careful about marginalising the processes through which at the local level elite motives and intentions can be resisted, mediated and re-interpreted ...In this case the struggle was between authors, publishers, educational bureaucrats and parental pressure groups all seeking influence over what should constitute legitimate curriculum knowledge; what claims to truth and knowledge are to be presented; who it is that selects school textbook knowledge; what voices are heard and whose knowledge is legitimised. (page 69) EXACTLY, again!!!

*Pro-bookers is a non-complimentary term I use in Protester Voices—The 1974 Textbook Tea P arty.

** hegemony 1. influence or authority over others 2. the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group (

***Apple, M.W. & Christian-Smith, L. (1991) (eds.) The politics of the textbook. New York, Routledge.

***Foerstel, H.N (2002) (ed.) Banned in the U.S.A.: a reference guide to book censorship in schools and public libraries. Santa Barbara, Greenwood Publishing Group.

*** Lewis, R. & Hennen, J. (1991) West Virginia: documents in the history of a ruralindustrial state. Dubuque, IA, Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company.

***Seltzer, C. (1974) “A confusion of goals: West Virginia book war ‟ . The Nation, (November, 2nd), pp. 430-435.

In 2011 Keith Crawford was a Professor of Education in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.