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Textbook War

'Protester Voices' recalls Kanawha textbook controversy

Karl Priest of Poca was a protester 36 years ago, when Kanawha County was embroiled in the so-called "textbook controversy."

The events of 1974, well chronicled during the textbook incident's 35th anniversary last year, began after Kanawha County School Board member Alice Moore objected to the content of some county textbooks.

Priest, who was a teacher at Chandler Elementary School then, and others, sided with Moore, who thought the books were infused with anti-Christian and anti-American themes. When the textbook controversy erupted, Priest became the chairman of a group of teachers who opposed the textbooks

More than three decades later, he has written a self-published book about the Kanawha County textbook controversy, or "textbook war" as he describes it, that examines the rationale of those who opposed the books. It's titled "Protester Voices: The 1974 Textbook Tea Party."

In an e-mail interview, Priest said he wrote the book "to record the truth of this nationally historic event."

Priest said he was inspired to write his book last year after a journalist researching the event contacted him.

"Talking to the journalist motivated me to look through my files, untouched for over 30 years, and to retrieve some dim memories of the Textbook War. That led to a series of Internet articles and eventually the book," Priest said.

"Protester Voices" is Priest's attempt to tell the protesters' side of the story, a side that he claims, "has been slanted against the protesters" in the media.

Priest acknowledges that the textbook uprising resulted in some acts of violence by protesters, including school bombings, rock throwing and sniper fire. Priest did not condone their actions, but he said biased media reports tended to focus on the violent, boisterous few.

"Unfortunately, the miniscule minority who were violence prone are the ones who receive nearly all the attention ... It would not have been difficult to find plenty of soft-spoken, articulate folks on the protest lines. The overwhelming majority of them were peaceful, and their actions were honorable," he said.

Priest sees the textbook war of 36 years ago as a conflict between the liberal "cocktail" set and those with deeply held religious, conservative and patriotic beliefs.

"The folks who formed the grassroots textbook protest were not wild-eyed ignoramuses, and some were as educated as the snobs who mocked them. The protesters were good people - the kinds of folks most people would want to have as neighbors," he said.

"Protester Voices" is for anyone who wants to gain insight into why the textbook protesters opposed the books.

It contains the personal accounts of Alice Moore and other protesters, and it also has photographs of the protesters in action, including peaceful protesters waving flags.

Priest said he hopes three things will happen once people read his book.

"My main hope is that the slanted propaganda that makes the protesters to appear as wild-eyed violent and/or stupid fanatics will be countered. It only takes one kernel of truth to overcome a heap of lies.

"My second hope is that modern Tea Partiers will learn from and be inspired by what we did in 1974.

"Third, I hope to encourage Christian people to get their children out of public schools because those schools have gotten steadily worse since 1974."

Priest grew up in Charleston. After serving in the Navy, he earned a teaching degree and a master's degree in education administration. He taught school for more than 34 years.

Priest is also known as the "Insectman" (, a ministry in which he uses insects to teach creationism.