Trey Kay, Deborah George Published

Revisiting The Great Textbook War

A graphic that reads, "Us & Them: Revisiting the Great Textbook War." The background is gray and features the WVPB logo. To the right of the graphic is a black and white photo of a woman sitting with a protest sign that reads, "I have a 'Bible,' I don't need those dirty books."

Read the companion piece to this episode from Us & Them Host Trey Kay.

Fifty years ago this month, a fierce controversy erupted over newly adopted school textbooks in Kanawha County, West Virginia. 

The fight led to violent protests in the state. Dynamite hit vacant school buildings. Bullets hit empty school buses. And protesting miners forced some coal mines to shut down — because of the new multicultural textbooks. 

The classroom material focused on an increasingly global society, introducing students to the languages and ideas of diverse cultures. The material was an affront to many Christian social conservatives who felt the books undermined traditional American values. They saw their religion replaced by another belief system: secular humanism. 

Many of those frustrations boiled over in Kanawha County in the summer of 1974.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, CRC Foundation and Daywood Foundation.

This episode was honored with George Foster Peabody, Edward R. Murrow and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards.

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A black and white photo of an adult woman sits at a desk. A microphone is in front of her along with a large stack of papers.
At the pivotal meeting on June 27, 1974, Kanawha County School Board member Alice Moore reviews transcripts as protesters watch through the board office auditorium windows. 

“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.”

— Alice Moore

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
The cover of a book from the 1970s. It features a close up photograph of a Black man looking off to the side. The text on the cover of the magazine reads, "Over two million copies in print. Soul on Ice. Eldridge Cleaver."
Black power leader Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice was one of the leading sources of controversy.

Photo Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
A black and white photograph of a woman in protest outside of the Kanawha County Board of Education building. She holds a sign that reads, "When the books go out, the kids come back."
A parent expresses her frustration over the adopted books outside of the Kanawha County Board of Education building.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photograph of a girl with pigtails sitting in the grass. She holds a sign that reads, "Clean books in, dirty books out."
A young girl succinctly summarizes the bottom line of the 1974 Kanawha County textbook protest.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photograph of a man speaking from a podium. He is dressed formally in a suit and tie. He holds two books - one in the air and the other off to the side. Behind him is the American flag.
The Rev. Marvin Horan, shown here at a November 1974 rally, was the most prominent person to serve significant jail time for his role in the protests. He served three years for conspiring to “damage and destroy two schools.”

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photograph of a man in a white shirt, with a mustache and iconic 1970s haircut. His hands are up in the air as if he's speaking loudly. Behind him, another man carries the American flag.
The American flag was an ever-present symbol at nearly every anti-textbook gathering. The Rev. Avis Hill is shown here speaking outside the school board office.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photograph of two coal miners at a protest. The angle is down low, as we look up toward them and then sky. One miner is holding a sign that reads, "We need your help to boycott our schools to get these textbooks out." Above the men is the American flag above a building.
Miners buck the will of their union leaders and join the textbook boycott.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
Protesters stand along a road, dressed in clothes from the 1970s. A woman holds up a sign that reads "Even hillbillies have constitutional rights! We do know the difference in communism and freedom!"
A line of textbook protesters picket outside Midway Elementary School in Campbells Creek, W.Va.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
Dozens of people line the streets in protest. The black and white photograph features an aerial view.
On Nov. 9, 1974, protesters take to the streets the day after the school board reinstates the books.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photograph of a broken school window. Inside can be seen a chalkboard and an American flag.
Textbook supporters pointed to the apparent contradictions between the violence and the protesters’ religious beliefs.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photograph of a West Virginia State Trooper. He is in uniform and wears glasses. He points to a bullet hole in a vehicle.
West Virginia State Trooper D. N. Miller’s cruiser was shot by a sniper on Nov. 13, 1974 while escorting a school bus.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers
A black and white photo of a man wearing a KKK uniform from the 1970s. Behind him is another man holding an umbrella over his head.
Klansman Dale Reusch attends a January 1975 anti-textbook rally on the steps of the West Virginia Capitol; the Rev. Marvin Horan is holding the umbrella.

Photo Credit: Charleston Newspapers