September 3, 1974: Kanawha Co. Schools Reopen Amidst High Tensions Over Textbooks

Kanawha Textbook War

On September 3, 2974, Kanawha County schools opened amid high tensions. Months earlier, school board member Alice Moore had objected to the content of new language arts books the county was adopting. She felt that many were anti-religious or anti-American. Fueled by the efforts of conservative ministers, an opposition movement to the books grew rapidly, particularly in rural parts of Kanawha County. Despite petitions bearing 12,000 signatures and public condemnation of the books by 27 ministers on the grounds of immorality and indecency, the board approved most of the books.

Textbook protesters called for a boycott of schools. When schools opened, picketing parents paraded outside. Attendance was down at least 20 percent, and the actual number could’ve been much higher. Some 3,500 coal miners walked off their jobs in support of the protest.

Violence soon erupted, perpetrated by both supporters and opponents of the books. Shots were fired, cars and homes firebombed, schools dynamited and vandalized, and 11 protesters arrested. Although the disputed books were finally allowed in schools, the board approved guidelines making it more challenging to adopt potentially controversial books in the future.