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The woman who sparked the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy has died. 82-year-old Alice Whitehurst Moore passed away at her home in Tennessee over the weekend.
Moore was on the Kanawha County Board of Education and sparked a national debate with her objection to a new set of language arts books designed to reflect America’s increasingly multicultural society. Moore helped mobilize a protest that targeted schools and businesses throughout the county.
National attention came when boycotts paralyzed businesses in Kanawha and eight surrounding counties. Moore never advocated violence, however some protesters resorted to such tactics.
The controversy extended well beyond the Kanawha Valley. It provided the newly formed Heritage Foundation with a cause to rally an emerging Christian conservative movement.
- Listen to the Us & Them episode “Trey & Alice”
- Listen to award-winning audio documentary The Great Textbook War
Us & Them host Trey Kay has this remembrance:
It’s with deep sadness that I report the passing of a dear friend and someone who helped define the Us & Them podcast in its earliest days. Alice Whitehurst Moore passed away on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. Her daughter Chrissie Moore-Henthorne says her mother died at her home in Acton, Tennessee surrounded by her family. She was 82 years old.
I first became aware of Alice when she served on the Kanawha County Board of Education in West Virginia in the 1970s. In 1974, when I was in 7th grade in that school district, Alice sparked a national debate and conversation on multiculturalism when she objected to the adoption of a new set of language arts classroom textbooks for the district.
The books were recommended by a group of English teachers to reflect America’s increasingly multicultural society. Alice reviewed many of the proposed books and found a significant number of the passages and themes to be objectionable. She met with concerned parents in church basements and community centers and mobilized a book protest.
The effort drew national attention because it called for boycotts that paralyzed businesses for Kanawha and eight surrounding counties. Although Alice never advocated violence, some protesters resorted to violent tactics. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, sniper bullets hit some school buses, journalists were beaten and protesting miners shut down some of the region’s coal mines.
Textbook supporters said new curriculum materials would introduce students to fresh ideas about multiculturalism. Opponents said the books undermined traditional American values. The controversy extended well beyond the Kanawha Valley and became a rallying point for the then newly formed Heritage Foundation and its Christian conservative movement.
As a student, I was aware of how the protests made my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia the spotlight of news. Decades later, I chronicled the story of the Kanawha County Textbook Controversy in an award-winning audio documentary The Great Textbook War.
I met Alice while making that report, and we developed a deep friendship that led to the creation of the Us & Them podcast. Our very first episode was called “Trey & Alice” and it provides some insight into the loving and sometimes contentious relationship that Alice and I had through the years.
Alice left West Virginia in the early 1980s and returned to her hometown of Acton, Tennessee. She lived there until her passing. She was the wife of a Church of Christ preacher and the mother of five, the grandmother of seven and the great-grandmother of four.
I want to share my deepest condolences to Alice’s family and gratitude to her for supporting the work of speaking across the differences that divide us.