In 1974, Kanawha County was polarized by disagreement over the selection of textbooks for the 46,000 students attending the county’s 124 public schools. It began in April, when the five-member Kanawha County Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt 325 recommended texts and supplementary books in language arts. The books had previously been available for public review.
At the board meeting the following month, board member Alice Moore challenged the philosophy and content of some of the books. The wife of a fundamentalist minister, Moore had been elected to the school board in 1970 as a strong opponent of sex education. Purchase of the books was delayed until a consensus could be reached, and Moore, joined by several ministers, began a campaign against the books.
Despite petitions bearing 12,000 signatures and public condemnation of the books by 27 ministers and others on the grounds of immorality and indecency, the board voted 3-2 at the June meeting to accept most of the books. During July and August anti-text sentiment mounted, especially in the rural eastern end of the county, as the books and excerpts from them were circulated.
Opponents called for a boycott and attendance was down 20 percent at the opening of school on September 3. Picketing at schools quickly spread to businesses, industrial plants, and coal mines, with 3,500 miners staging a wildcat sympathy strike. On September 6, the Board of Education was granted an injunction by the Kanawha Circuit Court prohibiting protesters from interfering with the operation of the schools. A board compromise to remove the disputed books pending review by an 18-member board-appointed citizen committee was rejected and protest escalated. Shots were fired, cars and homes firebombed, schools dynamited and vandalized, and 11 protesters arrested. Schools were closed on September 12 for four days.
Throughout October and November, sporadic violence continued as protesters demanded the resignation of pro-text board members and the superintendent of schools. Protesters rejected the board proposal to place the disputed texts in school libraries with access by parental permission. Another compromise was proposed which accepted a modified version of Moore’s text guidelines that barred texts that pry into home life, teach racial hatred, undermine religious, ethnic, or racial groups, encourage sedition, insult patriotism, teach that an alien form of government is acceptable, use the name of God in vain, or use offensive language.
In December, the board reached tentative agreement on a set of policies under which several committees were established with parents involved in textbook selection and adoption. An inquiry by the National Education Association was held in Charleston.
Protest continued into 1975, fueled by the involvement of extremist groups such as the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan. The trial and sentencing of Rev. Marvin Horan for plotting the bombing of schools brought an unsettled end to the violence, but protesting continued intermittently through 1977.
e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on the Textbook Controversy
This Article was written by Shirley A. Smith
Last Revised on September 19, 2013
Kanawha County, West Virginia: A Textbook Study in Cultural Conflict. Washington: National Education Association, 1975.
Moffett, James. Storm in the Mountains. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.
Parker, Franklin. The Battle of the Books: Kanawha County. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Education Foundation, 1975.
Cite This Article
Smith, Shirley A. "Kanawha County Textbook Controversy." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 19 September 2013. Web. 29 April 2017.