From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary.
In 1974, a storm was brewing in the mountains and hollows of West Virginia.
Archival news: Earlier this week, a school in the community of Cabin Creek was bombed with a homemade device.
The center of the storm was new textbooks for school kids, and a growing rift in American society.
David Callison: They was going to teach my kids socialism, homosexuality...
David Lucas: ... they was teaching situational ethics.
Phyllis Harmon-Higginbotham: Satan is a roaring lion and he's out to steal, kill and destroy our children.
I'm Stephen Smith. In the coming hour, The Great Textbook War from American RadioWorks. First, this news.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: How Long? Not Long!
Stephen Smith: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, The Great Textbook War. I'm Stephen Smith.
King.: You shall reap what you sow. How Long? Not Long!
In the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and legions of other black Americans took to the streets demanding equal rights. Seismic changes ran through American culture, and American schools.
King: Let us march on segregated schools [Let us march, tell it] until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.
Civil rights activists pushed for school desegregation - and for lesson plans and school books that included black children. Many schools taught reading with books like Dick and Jane, stories about a white, middle class family in an all-white community. Education experts began looking for better ways to reach children who were not white or middle class.
[Sesame Street tape]
Character 1: Roosevelt Franklin what you say?
Character 2: You know the very first letter is the letter "A."
Public television program Sesame Street debuted in 1969. It was meant to attract inner-city kids as viewers, to entertain kids and to teach them. It featured Muppets interacting with people of different races in an urban setting. A similar kind of change was brewing in the public schools, where people began using the term "multiculturalism." In 1965, the federal government has passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It provided millions of dollars to transform school curriculum and to produce new textbooks.
Albert Bursma: There was almost an absence of any African-American literature in the past.
Albert Bursma was an executive at a company that published schoolbooks at the time of this education transformation.
Bursma: In order to motivate these kids we have to give them something that's contemporary, someone that they have heard about, and give them literature that may be more understandable to them than the traditional historical literature that we were giving them in the past.
When new, multicultural textbooks hit the classrooms in the early 1970s, some communities did not welcome the change. Producer Trey Kay was a kid in West Virginia the year when new textbooks tore his hometown apart. Over the coming hour, The Great Textbook War.
Trey Kay: I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, the capitol of the state and the seat of Kanawha County. In September 1974, the year of the great textbook war, I was 12 years old and about to enter the seventh grade. When the bus rolled up to John Adams Junior High that first day, I saw a group of women holding homemade signs. One read - "I have a Bible, I don't need those dirty textbooks!" What dirty textbooks, I wondered? Were we going to be reading Playboy in school?
In the next few weeks, our community would be turned upside down. Neighbors threatened and harassed each other; the Ku Klux Klan - who I'd heard of but never seen - marched on the state capitol steps and burned crosses in the community.
It all seems hard to believe now, but to understand what happened you'd need to know a little bit about where I grew up.
I grew up in the part of Charleston people called "The Hill." It was the affluent part of town.
It looks like "Anywhere Suburbia, USA" - kids playing on cul-de-sacs, dads cooking burgers on outdoor grills.
Our neighbors were doctors, lawyers, business people.
Outside the city, the twisting, bumpy roads wound through hills and hollows past small towns and mining camps. There are general stores and filling stations, men in grease-covered overalls and dozens of little churches filled to capacity on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.
There was a lot that was different between urban and rural Kanawha County; not the least of which were our churches. People on the Hill, where I lived, went to mainstream churches - like Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist - with sedate, orderly services. In the working-class communities on the outskirts of Charleston, old time religion believers met for spirited services with loud singing and the free shouting of praises and testimony.
Preacher: That scared the hell out of me. Now hell's a real place, [yes it is], it wasn't created for you...
Despite our differences, we had one institution that tied us together: the board of education, which oversaw Kanawha County's 125 schools. But that was before the great textbook war.
On April 11th in the spring of 1974, the Kanawha County Board of Ed[ucation] met to consider some new textbooks that were being proposed for adoption.
Al Anson: The meeting will please come to order. We're starting a little bit late this evening....
Becky Burns: I remember it, going into it, as a typical meeting, I mean, I had attended these before, but just as a teacher. My name is Becky Burns. I was a member of the five-member textbook selection committee in Kanawha County Schools in 1974. Thelma Conley presented the rationale for the selection
Thelma Conley: Not only did the committee look for multiethnic content but also multicultural.
Burns: We were operating under state guidelines. One of the guidelines, which was a new one, was that the textbooks - they should be multi-cultural in their content and in their authorship.
Multiculturalism was a newer concept in curriculum planning in the late 1960's and early 70s. Across the country, schools were beginning to use textbooks that included more viewpoints and more writers of color.
Burns: Textbooks, pretty much at that point, were full of selections written by "dead white guys." Not that there's anything wrong with dead white guys. However, those represent only one perspective on the world.
But when the book selection committee made its presentation, school board member Alice Moore questioned a term used in the report: dialectology. This was a teaching approach that was intended to encourage students to feel comfortable in expressing themselves by using their natural dialect.
Alice Moore: I just don't think I agree with that approach at all, in fact, I'm sure I don't.
Anson: What was that?
Alice Moore was new to Kanawha. She had grown up in a small town in Tennessee and had moved with her family to the area when her husband had been called to preach for a Church of Christ congregation just outside of Charleston. And it didn't seem right to Mrs. Moore to teach incorrect English in school.
Moore: There's a correct way to speak. Now, there may be some slight variations but "dem" is never correct, "dat" is never correct for "that." Now if we're talking about this in dialectology, I won't approve these books.
Mrs. Moore's objection caused a sensation. It was rare that an ordinary member of the community, a parent, had questioned the decisions of education professionals.
Russ Isaacs: My name is Russ Isaacs. I was on the Kanawha County Board of Education for six years. Why not leave it up to the professionals? I mean what are we paying these people to do? I mean, they are professional educators. What am I? I'm an accountant. What the hell do I know about education?
Mrs. Moore didn't have a college degree, but she read a lot; she was well informed. She'd been keeping an eye on attempts to bring sex education into the curriculum. And for some time, she'd been reading about what she believed to be the radical left and their attempt to use American schools to change society. In her mind, all this talk about multiculturalism and dialectology was just a cover-up for a larger, liberal agenda.
Moore: I almost think that Kanawha County was a test case. This was happening in different places around the country, but I wonder if they didn't think they could come into West Virginia ... that these were backward, uneducated people. They could come into this little state; they could do whatever they wanted to and nobody was going to question them.
After some discussion the board moved to approve the books but hold off purchasing them until they'd had the chance to review them more closely.
Anson: OK, would you be willing then to go along with the approval these recommendations on that basis?
Moore: I would approve the recommendation on this basis.
Anson: OK, would you so move?
Moore: I so move.
Anson: All in favor of the motion say, "Aye."
Anson: "Aye" opposed. [silence] The motion is carried.
Moore: Well as soon as the meeting was adjourned, my husband happened to be there that night - he didn't always go with me, generally didn't - but he was there that night and he walked up and handed me a book and said, "I want you to look at what you just adopted."
Isaacs: You know, I remember Malcolm X being a flashpoint for Alice.
Moore: I want you to look at what I just approved! The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
The quote that Alice's husband pointed out was from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. "All praise is due to Allah that I moved to Boston when I did. If I hadn't, I'd probably still be a brainwashed black Christian."
Moore: I was so offended by that, that remark in a student's textbook, so I told the superintendent, "I want every book delivered to my house, I want to see every book. I'm going to, you know, I'm going to start reading these books ..."
Ken Underwood: ....and we sent them all...all 300-plus books.
Kenneth Underwood was superintendant of schools.
Ken Underwood: I just figured if she wanted to read 300-plus books, she could.
Alice Moore's objections at the board meeting had been mostly about grammar. Now she found other things that made her even more uncomfortable. Four-letter-words scattered throughout stories; sexually suggestive works by e.e. cummings and Allen Ginsberg; and excerpts from memoirs by Black Panthers George Jackson and Eldridge Cleaver that combined what Mrs. Moore believed to be anti-Americanism and sexual vulgarity.
Alice Moore began giving interviews to the media, spreading the word about what was in the books.
Underwood: As the people were reading the newspapers, reading letters to the editor and going to various meetings, they started choosing up sides and it wasn't about a passage. It wasn't about a portion of a book. It was the books - you were either for them or against them.
A few months later, it was time for the board to make its decision about whether or not to purchase the books. June 27th was a rainy day in Charleston but people were flooding in from all parts of Kanawha to the board of ed meeting hoping to voice their opinion on the textbooks.
Moore: They were standing out in the rain and you just see this sea of umbrellas because they couldn't get inside the building, the building, there must've been 2,000 people there I guess. I think it was estimated around 2,000 people. The building was full down the hall all the way to the outside, where people were standing; I think maybe the windows were slightly opened.
Anson: Would the meeting please come to order?
With underlined copies of the texts in hand, Alice began to question those who defended the books.
Moore: I knew what I was going to be accused of; "These narrow-minded, religious fanatics, just wanting to censor textbooks." I knew we would be accused of book-burning and Nazi Germany would be brought up as this terror threat.
Alice questioned a selection from Freud in one of the supplemental texts.
Moore: In the same book, Essays and Theory, there's another article on the sexuality of children, their sexual feelings towards their parents where they spell out quite explicitly how every little girl has a very sexual desire for her father...
Moore: ... anyway, Sigmund Freud, this was something he had said, and he said every child, every boy, desires to have sex with his mother and every girl desires to have sex with her father. And that was so repulsive to me, to think that we would, that any child would see that, I knew that thought would never leave their mind.
Mrs. Rubenstein: You know, what strikes me Mrs. Moore is that you're pinpointing a few objectionable things ...
The objections moved from Freud to fairy tales to felons. Moore brought up an excerpt from Soul On Ice, the memoir by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, who had spent time in prison for rape and assault.
Moore: Is it your feeling that in order to represent minorities that we should - specifically blacks - that we should represent them with the Eldridge Cleavers and the George Jacksons and the people of this type?
Dan Moles probably represented how most parents felt about children reading Cleaver in literature class.
Dan Moles: Yeah, Eldridge Cleaver. Yeah. Soul on Ice in the second or third chapter he's talking about going across the tracks and raping white women, you know and things in there. Well, I mean that's fine if that's what you want to do up in New York, but that doesn't fit on Campbell's Creek very well.
That chapter of Soul on Ice wasn't actually included in the selections in the textbooks, but people objected to Cleaver on principle. And Mrs. Moore was not just speaking to white members of the community.
Moore: They represented the worst of society and called that multiculturalism. I don't think that represents black culture, or at least that was what I was trying to say to the black community: this is not a fair representation of your culture.
But Reverend Ron English, a member of the local chapter of the NAACP, felt uncomfortable having a white school board member suggest what was the best representation of the black community. He objected to Mrs. Moore's assertion that Cleaver and Jackson were unsuitable for the classroom.
Rev. Ron English: When you say people of this type assumes that that type is not representative or that that is some kind of defect in that type and that was what I was just speaking to ...
Moore: You do not think... [laughs]
English: No I do not. I think they have a message from the other side of their American experience that ought to be told, but I will say that those persons are in a line of protest that I think is a part of the American experience from Tom Payne to Martin Luther King, Jr.
English: In a strange way, I respected her strategy. This is a very conservative community and within the black community; there were people who felt like some of the writings were anti-Christian, that some of the writings were unpatriotic, you know. Because maybe she had had some clues that there was that sentiment in the African-American community, or black community, and that she wanted to kind of speak to that by way of saying, "Now we're all Americans here - you understand that we are not talking about race here, we are talking about good old honest American values." She was pretty media savvy. The way that she went about raising questions and she would do it in a very cool, calm and collected kind of way.
Moore: Mr. Clendinin, you mentioned the academic freedom of teachers at all educational levels. Do you think that a teacher has the academic freedom to challenge an elementary child's religious beliefs?
Moore worked her way through the objections to the books - full of "coarse language," they were "anti-Christian and anti-American." But if there was any one thing at the core - it was that they encouraged students to question the values of their parents and community. Like an experienced trial attorney, she grilled Richard Clendenin - the President of the County Association of English teachers - when he brought up the subject of academic freedom.
Clendenin: To challenge his belief?
Moore: To challenge an elementary child's religious beliefs.
Clendenin: I don't believe he has the right to challenge his beliefs but he has the right to challenge him to think for himself about those beliefs.
Moore: He has a right then to put a doubt or a question in an elementary child's mind about whether or not there is a God or if the Bible stories are mythology or fables.
Crowd: We can't hear! We can't hear!
Anson: We'll have to have quiet, excuse me just a minute here...
Moore: It wasn't just a matter of throwing in foul words, you know, for children to see. It was a matter of getting children to accept a whole new idea that, they talk about the self-actualization, the, of clarifying your own values, you have to establish and clarify your own values. The idea that a parent could teach their child that "this is right, this is what you should do, this is wrong, you should never do this"; that had to be removed to free this child from the idea that there's an authority that tells them what's right and wrong. That they themselves can determine by themselves what is right for them and truth is what ever is truth to that individual.
And there it was: in a school board room in West Virginia, a basic fissure in American values was exposed. Whose rights take precedence? The family's or society's? What is the proper role of the parent as head of the family?
Mike Wenger: If I have been successful as a parent nothing my children can read in school can hurt them.
There were several parents, like Mike Wenger, who defended the books.
Wenger: I believe these books present a balanced and realistic view of today's world in a manner that respects students in their intelligence, gives them an insight into the views of many different groups of people - all of which they are likely to confront at one time or another in their lives, and is most of all uplifting, inspiring and filled with the love for life.
Mike Wenger told the board that the purpose of public education is to teach students to think for themselves.
Wenger: Most of us remember the childhood saying "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words - and I would add ideas - can never harm me." To summarize, this is the only world in which we live; we cannot hide it from our children, we can only determine when they will find it and where they will find it. Let them find it today rather than tomorrow and let them find it here in our schools rather than on some street corner in New York or in some rice paddy in Vietnam. Thank you.
The passion-filled speeches went on like that for a little more than three hours before the board made its decision.
Isaacs: Mr. President, I am prepared to move that we move forward with the purchase of the basic textbooks as adopted by this Board on the April 11th.
Anson: All in favor of the motion to adopt, say "Aye."
Anson, Isaacs and Stansbury: Aye.
Moore and Matt Kinsolving: No.
Anson: The motion is carried 3 - 2.
The books were adopted. Mrs. Moore and the other book opponents lost this battle. But the war had just begun.
Smith: You're listening to The Great Textbook War. I'm Stephen Smith. Coming up:
Archival news tape: Shattered windows, chairs scattered about, what was left of Mrs. Catherine Albright's first grade room at Midway Elementary School at Campbells Creek, West Virginia.
To see slideshows of the growing protests, and eventual violence over textbooks in Kanawha County, visit our website - American RadioWorks.org. There, you can download this and other American RadioWorks programs, sign up for our podcast, and share this story with others. That's at American RadioWorks.org. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.
Smith: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, The Great Textbook War, I'm Stephen Smith. In the late summer of 1974, Americans were struggling to find their footing in uncertain times.
Richard Nixon: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president at that hour in this office.
In August of '74, Richard Nixon became the first American president to resign from office. Americans faced rising inflation and gas shortages. Parents in Boston were gearing up to fight court-ordered busing that would desegregate their schools.
In West Virginia, a battle was raging over new textbooks the Kanawha County school board had just adopted. The books were meant to provide multicultural perspectives. But many people in Charleston and the surrounding communities saw them as an attack on families, on religion, on a way of life. Trey Kay continues our story.
Kay: School was still out for the summer, but everyone was talking about the new books that children would find in their classrooms that fall.
Avis Hill: We are all out for one thing and that's to not see that our children's minds are, are torn down and this stuff goes into the schools.
Avis Hill and other fundamentalist preachers from Kanawha County's mining communities took up the fight against the books. Marvin Horan was a truck driver and a preacher from the Campbells Creek community. He called for a school boycott.
Marvin Horan: Now the thing we have to do is stay out of school until the books are gone. [cheering] We must stay out of schools. The books must go! We can win, if we'll stay out of these schools!
Leaflets circulated with excerpts from the texts. A lesson on mythology used the example of Aesop's fable about the gladiator Androcles and the lion who spares him because he'd once pulled a thorn from his paw. It seemed innocent enough, only the lesson also cited Daniel and the Lion's Den.
Connie Johnson: I went to a meeting at a church across the road from where I live, and it said in there that God was like a fairy tale - that he wasn't real. And people's not going to stand for these books. And I'll keep my kids home before I send 'em.
Mick Staton: I don't have a problem with Androcles and the Lion, what I have a problem with is comparing a myth which is clearly a myth to the Bible. And that's the problem.
Kackie Eller: There were night meetings all over, in schools and out of schools, in churches, on the street corners, shouting your cause so that it was constantly keeping people stirred up. It was the civil war of books.
Hill: And I say this to you today, you that are here, if you've never been on a protest line, if you've never held your child out of school.
A young English teacher named Kackie Eller went to one of the meetings where the Rev. Avis Hill spoke.
Avis: Come Tuesday, I expect to see ghost rooms in Kanawha County. I expect to classes not held. [applause]
Eller: He's very charismatic and the crowd that came were very, "Ban those books, burn them, let's burn them, let's put them in piles and burn them." And I was standing beside a man that was a businessman in the area. I said, "You know John, this is getting a little bit out of hand here." And I can remember that he pulled his coat back and said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of you," and he had the biggest pistol on his body that I'd ever seen.
Kelly Wills Carson: It was a scary time because all the adults and your parents and people around you were acting in ways that you'd not seen them act before.
Kelly Wills was to be a sixth grader that fall at Midway Elementary School in the coal mining community of Campbells Creek.
Willis Carson: My mom's involvement, the extent of her involvement with me in school was to be a PTA mom and to come for the Christmas party and all of that and now all of a sudden she's going to meetings where they're discussing not sending your kids to school. The whole thing was kind of Twilight Zone-ish, really.
And the rhetoric kept ratcheting up. Reverend Charles Quigley was heard to pray for God to strike down the school board members who had endorsed the books.
On September 3, the first day of school. Officials estimated twenty percent of Kanawha County's 45,000 students stayed at home.
Archival news: This is the CBS Evening News with Roger Mudd substituting for vacationing Walter Cronkite...
The national networks, which had been focused on anti-busing riots in Boston, turned their cameras south towards the angry parents of West Virginia.
Eller: There were people here, I remember, from everywhere. Every news, every anchor, everybody anywhere.
Archival news: Hal Walker in Kanawha County, West Virginia ...
Eller: And the more people that came, the more angry the controversy became.
Archival news: The Kanawha County School buses here in Dickinson didn't run today. They were blocked by a group of angry parents, some of them coal miners...
Avis Hill was in demand as a spokesman for the protesters.
Hill: We want what's right for our children. We want these dirty nasty books, I've been quoted many times through this by UPI and the others that "the dirty nasty books," and we want - that's what we want out of the schools.
Reverend Hill even recorded a song for the protest.
[music recording of Avis Hill]: Our lost heaven, West Virginia, dirty textbooks, broken-hearted mothers...
Woman: Well, I'm against the books, but I don't see doing it this way.
Reporter: How would you see doing it?
Woman: Well, there has to be another way. I think that it's illegal to keep them out of school and my child wants to go, so he's going.
Parents who did bring their children to school would be met by taunting protesters. Kelly Wills remembers seeing those parents when she went with her mother to picket in front of Midway Elementary.
Wills Carson: I felt sorry for them, one thing I remember they never made eye contact, they looked down, they never spoke. They would take their kids and have them close to them and walk them through this gauntlet of people.
Seeing those picket lines, a lot of parents gave up and turned the car around. Kanawha County was union country and it took nerve to cross a picket line. The book-protesting mothers also began showing up at morning shifts at the mines, urging the men to join the protest. It worked. Despite union orders, thousands of miners walked off the job.
David Lucas: They was some for the books probably and they was some against the books, but they wouldn't cross a protest line.
Dave Lucas tried to get workers from a silicon smelting plant in the town of Alloy to join the protest. He was arrested and charged with blocking the plant entrance.
Lucas: I thank God one day and I believe I'll get a reward for what I did.
Within days, more mines were shut down. So were chemical plants and grocery warehouses. Even municipal bus drivers stopped work. A message was being sent.
Lucas: Coal mines started shutting down and other businesses started shutting down. Then it was no longer a bunch of backwoods, retarded people, it was a legitimate gripe that we had.
Business owners were split on the protests. Most were against them but others with fundamentalist leanings gave money. The miners who were pro-union and mostly Democratic weren't all church-goers. But they didn't like their children being taught outsider notions.
David Callison: ... They was going to teach my kids socialism, homosexuality...
Lucas: ... they was teaching situational ethics.
Like whether it was ever OK to lie. One of the lessons used the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, asking children whether it was right for Jack to steal from the giant. All of this questioning flew in the face of some people's values. Miner David Callison.
Callison: I'm big on respect, it's just that simple, my kids was raised to respect you. The only thing that was required of you for them to show you respect is that you need to be older than them, that's all, you didn't have to be a handsome, you didn't have to be a hunk, you didn't have to be smart, you had to be older than them and they showed you some respect then.
Thousands of Kanawha County parents pulled their children out of public schools and formed alternative Christian schools.
Class: I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the savior for whose kingdom it stands...
Charles Quigley: We are using some of the textbooks that's used in the public schools - the basic textbooks: history books, algebra books, math books.
Before the fall of 1974, Christian schools were almost non-existent in the state, but after the book protest they began popping up like dandelions, in church basements and storefronts and old filling stations.
Quigley: Some of our reading books are different. We have some books that are written by Christian publications.
Interviewer: There's one other book that I assume you'll have.
Quigley: Yes sir, we'll definitely have the Bible. The Bible will be the main textbook.
Kelly Wills, now Kelly Wills Carson, went to one of these new Christian schools and says that she understands why her Mom chose to send her.
Wills Carson: These people have a right in this country, don't they, to raise their kids the way they see fit within the law, they have a right to not have their children unduly influenced by something that they don't agree with.
Kelly Wills Carson took me to meet her Mom and brother at the family home, located along a row of old coal company houses in Campbell's Creek Hollow.
Marlene Wills: I'm Marlene Wills.
Butch Wills: I'm Butch Wills.
Kelly's mother says she learned what was in the texts from a retired school teacher who lived next door.
Marlene Wills: She would find something in the books and she'd holler for me, she'd say, "come over and look at this" and I'd go read it.
Mrs. Wills agreed with the book protesters but says she wasn't a staunch fundamentalist.
Marlene Wills: Now I go to church and I go to Sunday school and I believe in God, but my name is not on the book.
Meaning, she's not saved. She's Christian, but not born-again.
Marlene Wills: My name's not on the book at the church, but I didn't send Kelly to school and I believed in the book protest. I didn't want her taught them kind of values.
Back in 1974, Kelly's older brother Butch Wills was a miner. He used to hang out at the Campbells Creek anti-textbook headquarters and is still good friends with the family of Rev. Marvin Horan, who used to run that office. He picks up the phone and calls Marvin's nephew, Steve to come over.
Butch Wills: Hey, is Stevie home? Yeah, get him on the phone!
When Steve Horan comes into the Wills' living room, we have a long talk about the various aspects of the book struggle: religion, class, culture. At one point, I bring up the sensitive subject that seemed to be at the heart of the textbook fight: race. I mention how the textbooks were intended to help students gain a multicultural experience. Steve explains that this was a concept that wouldn't have had much support from up the creek. In 1974, Campbell's Creek was all white.
Steve Horan: You know this was a racist community. No doubt about it.
Steve and Butch say that one Sunday during the protest, a rumor spread around Campbell's Creek.
Butch Wills: I remember that Sunday that they said the blacks was going to march up here and who know why? But, they was suppose to be here and the people was ready for it.
Marlene Wills: I was scared to death. I can remember.
Horan: I mean I can even remember, apparently somebody got a phone call and they had just went through some toll booth on the turnpike and were almost here.
Butch Wills: Yeah, 10 minutes from Campbell's Creek and it went up this creek like wildfire. While their wives, mothers and grandmothers was in the church on Sunday night, their husbands, uncles, brothers and cousins was in the parking lot with shotguns and deer rifles. I think Dad even had his gun ready.
Marlene Wills: I think so.
Horan: If you would have been a strange black person and got lost up Campbell's Creek, you'd have been dead that night.
Now, just to be clear, no black group ever marched up Campbells Creek. And Steve Horan says times have changed a lot since then.
Horan: That's 35 years ago and you know, as generations have come and gone now we've got blacks that live up here in a lot of places and it's not a big deal, I mean, it's not an issue at all.
But in 1974, it was a big deal. Kanawha County's black and white populations may have held similar Christian values. But to many blacks, the book protests seemed racially motivated.
Mildred Holt: I was suspicious because they were saying it was not racial, I couldn't buy that.
Mildred Holt was an English teacher in the school system at the time. She was excited about the possibility of being able to teach the works of black writers like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Holt: I think it was about race, I don't think it was culture, I think it was a pent-up fury about the civil rights movement and they were afraid of blacks becoming so well educated they would take their jobs. That's the way I felt. And then when I saw signs about "get the nigger books out of the county." Oh the signs were everywhere, and when I looked out of my office window and saw the Ku Klux Klan, I knew then that it was purely racial.
The Klan held protests and burned crosses during the textbook controversy. The textbook protesters had to spend a good deal of time and money publicly disavowing them.
As the protests gained media visibility, more national groups - on the right and the left - took interest. The John Birch Society and the National Education Association came to Kanawha. So did a fledgling group of conservatives from Washington, DC.
Connie Marshner was the education director for the newly-formed Heritage Foundation.
Connie Marshner: The network stories on the Kanawha County all over the country, many viewers saw those stories and said, "Oh, I'm not the only one who has these problems, it's not just my school district, it's not just my family, I'm part of something bigger."
Archival news: In Kanawha County, West Virginia there was violence today in the continuing demonstrations against the use of controversial textbook in the schools. The Charleston Gazette said in an editorial today: "The county is near anarchy."
Snipers fired at school buses, a CBS camera crew was roughed up by protesters, and a book protester was shot through the heart by a book supporter. The victim survived and the shooter turned himself in, but the violence continued. And then ...
Archival news: Shattered windows, chairs scattered about, what was left of Mrs. Catherine Albright's first grade room at Midway Elementary School at Campbells Creek, WV. A U.S. Treasury agent at Kanawha County Sheriff's office speculated the damage was the result of dynamite set off before sunrise...
Within the span of a few weeks, several elementary schools around the county - as well as the school board headquarters - were dynamited or firebombed. No one was injured but people were wary about sending their kids to school.
Mother: The Lord give me children and he give me sense enough to raise 'em and I sure am not gonna raise 'em to get blowed up under a pile of bricks or shot at in a school bus.
Shortly after the bombings, the school board announced it had come up with a compromise. Most of the textbooks would stay in the schools but parents would have to sign permission slips allowing their children to read them. Children whose parents didn't sign, could go sit in the library during the lesson.
National news reporter: Was this at least a partial victory for the people who opposed these books?
Moore: Not really, not really. What do we do? Does the child hold his hand up and say, "I am sorry Mrs. Smith my mother doesn't want me to read that book, I've got to leave the room." I know what happens to a child like that; they are the laughing stock of the schools.
The compromise did little to soothe the frustration of protesters like Rev. Henry Thaxton, who felt they were being condescended to by a cabal of cultural elitists.
Henry Thaxton: If they had ever shown any real interest in just listening, I think that's all we really wanted, nobody ever really listened, nobody, they built a wall and thumbed their nose at us and that's frustrating, that's frustrating to you, frustrating to me, it's frustrating to any human being to be ignored, I'd rather you'd hit me than try to ignore me.
Some protesters brought their frustration to the next board meeting.
Karl Priest: My name is Karl Priest and I am the acting Chairman of the Business and Professional People's Alliance for Better Textbooks, that is the teacher's chapter, I'll speak briefly ...
Karl Priest came to ask the board: how teachers, who were fundamentalist Christians, were to use texts that were so deeply offensive to their religious principals?
Priest: I just remember that the place was packed, I was scared, I spoke.
Priest: I am not here to criticize, the four of you that voted to return the controversial books have been adequately and suitably criticized.
Priest addressed superintendent Ken Underwood and the board members, including Matthew Kinsolving, Russell Isaacs and Alice Moore.
Underwood: I could see, in the front two rows people that I had never seen before.
Moore: There was a group of men sitting there, maybe coal miners, I don't know but big men and others I guess sitting there on the front row.
Charleston Gazette Reporter Kay Michael and Reverend Avis Hill were also in the room.
Kay Michael: The men started gathering around. They kind of started making a semi-circle up near the board members desks. All of a sudden fists were flying.
Priest: I just saw punches thrown toward the face, towards the head and that's it.
Isaacs: I looked over and some woman was just beating the hell out of Matthew Kinsolving with her bag, I mean just pounding him.
Hill: There was a woman in the crowd and she pulled out a can of mace and she was spraying at the board of education, she was trying to spray the mace on the superintendent of the board.
Superintendent Underwood got into the fight.
Underwood: It was either get involved or stand there and take a beatin.'
Hill: After it was all over and it happened, I came back in, the crowd had dispersed and the police was there. And I stood up and I said, "Dr. Underwood. I'm sorry for this incident this night. I apologize and I'm sorry that this fight broke out." And Dr. Underwood had a handkerchief up to his nose and was wiping blood and he looked at me and said, "Only thing I can say, Reverend, you just better be glad I never got my hands on 'em." [laughs] He was ready to fight. He was ready to mix it up. I think that me and Marvin made a redneck out of Dr. Underwood that night.
About a week after the rumble in the boardroom, there was a break in the investigation into the bombing at Midway Elementary School in Campbell's Creek.
Wayne Rich: About 11:00 p.m. at night I got a call from one of the investigators who said, "You need to get to the office." My name is Wayne A. Rich, Jr., at the time I was Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of West Virginia.
Rich went in and heard the report of federal investigators, who had been questioning a suspect named Delbert Rose. Rose was a Campbells Creek resident, who had spent a lot of time at the anti-textbook headquarters, located up that hollow. During the interrogation, Delbert Rose confessed to throwing a dynamite bomb into Midway Elementary School. Then he told the investigators about another plan that would send a message to parents who continued bringing their children to school.
Rich: He said there was a discussion at school textbook protest headquarters that night on Campbell's Creek that they could take a blasting cap and put it inside the gas tank of a car and hook the wires to the brake lights and when the car, when the kids got into the car and you backed down like onto the road and you hit the brake line it would blow the gas tank on the car.
Before this, all of the terrorist acts had been leveled at empty buildings. Rich moved fast - indicting six people for conspiracy. People were shocked to see Reverend Marvin Horan's name at the top of the list.
At Marvin Horan's trial, Delbert Rose was the main witness for the prosecution. He told the court that Horan had said the bible supported the violence that they were planning.
Rich: At that time, Marvin Horn began reading several passages out of the Bible including "there is a time and a place for all things, a time to love, a time to hate, a time to kill, a time to be killed, a time for peace and a time for war." Marvin Horan further stated "if you're going to war, if you get all your horses and your chariots and you go to battle or go to war be not afraid because the Lord Thy God is with thee."
Delbert Rose then told the court what these words from Horan meant to him.
Wayne Rich: "I was not to be afraid when I was asked to put dynamite in Midway school, that the textbooks was wrong and that it was time to stand up for right and stand up against wrong and this was like a war against the textbooks."
Marvin Horan was convicted on one count of conspiracy and he served three years in a federal penitentiary. His conviction did not sit well with people from Campbells Creek. Here's Butch Wills.
Butch Wills: He was railroaded, the way I look at it, you got to say what you believe and that's what 95 percent of the people up here believe. They still believe that way.
But Horan's prison sentence bothered some people in the pro-book faction too. Reverend Jim Lewis, a liberal Episcopal minister in Charleston, was one of the most outspoken advocates for the textbooks and was diametrically opposed to Horan on just about every issue regarding the protest. However, he spoke at Marvin's sentence hearing and asked the court for leniency on his behalf.
Rev. Jim Lewis: There were a group of us in the community who felt that his conviction should stand, but that rather than putting him away in prison in Kentucky or wherever, it may be good some kind of probation here. Some kind of accountability here and then be helpful in bringing some kind of reconciliation across the county.
After the trial, things, for the most part, settled down. The civil war of books was over. Over the decades that followed, reconciliation in Kanawha County was hard to come by.
It was hard to tell who had won exactly. The book supporters claimed victory because the books went back into the schools. On the other hand, some schools refused to use them.
Jay Sprigg was a student at one of those schools. Sprigg calls himself a liberal redneck. He graduated from high school in 1983, attended West Virginia State College for a while and worked as a carpenter until he was disabled a few years ago
Jay Sprigg: I don't want to dwell on it or carry a grudge, but I got out later in the world and talked to a friend when he had to do compare and contrast report on 1984 vs. Brave New World, and I was like "where was my teacher at on stuff like that?" You know, we were spending a whole semester on Beowulf, you know. Nothing against Beowulf, but the whole semester?
Sprigg thinks his teachers wanted to avoid any kind of controversy and just never assigned much modern literature to their students.
Sprigg: I can't think of a better place in the world for an eleventh grade English class to study the Grapes of Wrath. But we never would've. They would have never done that. The upper Kanawha Valley in West Virginia would be a perfect place for a teacher to teach the Grapes of Wrath, but we didn't.
A lot of the teachers agree that they avoided using books that might stir up trouble. Becky Burns, who was on the committee that selected the disputed books, says that a teacher who used those texts could become a target.
Burns: I'm a brave person, I'm a brave teacher and I was going to do the best for my kids, but I did think twice on occasion. And I know of some teachers, I know of some teachers who never used those books even though they were restored. They said I'm not going to go there, I'm not going to put myself out there to be threatened, to be criticized, to have constant turmoil in my class.
And some teachers' antipathy for the protesters is just as raw as it was three decades ago.
Nell Wood: I am so tired thirty years afterwards of people wanting me to state the position of those stupid protestors, and they were stupid.
Teacher Nell Wood who chaired the selection committee - doesn't take kindly to suggestions that she see the situation from the protesters' point of view.
Wood: I think it is necessary for us to grow up and recognize that it's a big, wide, wonderful, scary, ugly, beautiful world. There's everything in it and we have to learn to look at it and not fall apart.
But distrust of public education was a permanent legacy of the textbook war.
Last August, Reverends Avis Hill and Ezra Graley, joined a few dozen other textbook warriors at a reunion in Little Creek Park in South Charleston to eat chicken and apple pie, and swap stories about those heady days in 1974.
Woman: I think that we were a wonderful bunch of people, [laughs] to tell you the truth. Fightin' for something clean and right and legal.
Ezra Graley: Amen!
Phyllis Harmon Higginbotham: I felt like a soldier of the Lord.
[Higginbotham sings "Onward Christian Soldiers"]
Like many of the protesters, Phyllis Harmon now Higginbotham, says that the textbook war was the most significant part of her life.
Higginbotham: It caused me to realize that I had to really stand guard on my children and watch everything, you know, knowing that Satan is a roaring lion and he's out to steal, kill and destroy our children.
A sign on the wall of the picnic shelter at the protest reunion read, "The first Tea Party was held in Kanawha County 35 years ago." Avis Hill and retired schoolteacher Karl Priest see themselves as pioneers.
Hill: Don't let anybody sell you short. We started a movement that has grown in momentum ...
Priest: I have no doubt that West Virginia was the - to use an analogy of the American Revolution - the place where the shot was fired that was heard around the world.
Hill: ...every time you turn on the television and you watch Fox News or Glenn Beck or you watch Sean Hannity, in 1974 when we got started, there was no Fox News, there was no Rush Limbaughs, there was no Sean Hannitys.
[Fox and Friends musical logo]
Welcome back to Fox and Friends. The books your children are learning from could be filled with harmful inaccuracies ...
...You would be surprised to learn that the most commonly used textbooks in schools are being used as tools for propaganda
... I gotta tell you something. I would not want my kids in a school where they are taking a captive audience and indoctrinating them with views that contradict mine.
So, unlike 35 years ago, Reverend Hill has plenty of company on the cable news.
He and the textbook protesters believe that the current state of American schools vindicates the position that they took three decades ago.
Hill: Our nation is in peril. Our children are being destroyed every day. Our homes are being crushed and destroyed. And America is reaping today, cause we have been in ... thrown out... thrown to the wind and we are reaping a whirlwind of what we have done in the past. [applause]
Controversies over textbooks happened before the uproar in Kanawha County and they flared up afterwards, but none ever provoked such violence. When things settled down in West Virginia, it marked a temporary truce, not an end to the fundamental, ideological conflicts over how and what to teach children. Unlike many other countries, the United States has no federally mandated curriculum for its public schools. Local control of education is one of our society's abiding principles. And in many American school districts what gets taught in the classroom is still at the center of an entrenched battle over what this country is, and what it ought to be.
Smith: You've been listening to and American RadioWorks documentary, The Great Textbook War. It was produced by Trey Kay and Deborah George with help from Anna Sale, Rosa Meyer and Ellen Guettler. Editing help from Catherine Winter. Music was provided by Michael Lipton and Tristram Lozaw. Jonathon Mitchell and Craig Thorson provided technical assistance. I'm Stephen Smith.
Special thanks to Henry Battle, Stan Bumgardner, Richard Fauss of the West Virginia Archives.
The Great Textbook War is the winner of a 2009 Peabody Award.
To learn more about the textbook debate, in Kanawha County and elsewhere around the country, visit our website - American RadioWorks.org. There you can download a podcast of this program, or any program from our archive of more than 100 documentaries. That's at American RadioWorks.org.
The Great Textbook War was sponsored by the Kanawha Historical and Preservation Society and made possible with funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council, Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Kanawha County Senators Community Partnership Grant, the CRC Foundation, the Spencer Foundation and generous listener support.
American RadioWorks is supported by the Batten Institute. The research center for global entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. Batteninstitute.org.
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