The Great Textbook War

From: Trey Kay
Length: 58:59

In 1974, Kanawha County was the first battleground in the American culture wars. Controversy erupted over newly-adopted school textbooks. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, buses were riddled with bullets and surrounding coal mines were shut down by protesting miners. Textbook supporters thought they would introduce students to new ideas about multiculturalism. Opponents felt the books undermined traditional American values. The controversy extended well beyond the Kanawha Valley. The newly-formed Heritage Foundation found a cause to rally an emerging Christian conservative movement. This documentary tells the story of that local confrontation and the effect that it had on the future of American politics.

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In 1974, Kanawha County was the first battleground in the American culture wars. Controversy erupted over newly-adopted school textbooks. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, buses were riddled with bullets and surrounding coal mines were shut down by protesting miners. Textbook supporters thought they would introduce students to new ideas about multiculturalism. Opponents felt the books undermined traditional American values. The controversy extended well beyond the Kanawha Valley. The newly-formed Heritage Foundation found a cause to rally an emerging Christian conservative movement. This documentary tells the story of that local confrontation and the effect that it had on the future of American politics.

 

The Documentary                                                                                                                        More than 40 interviews and archival sound of school board meetings, public debates and news reports bring the story of the Kanawha County textbook wars to life. School board member Alice Moore, who led the opposition to the books, describes what she found objectionable, and more broadly, how she felt traditional family values were under attack. Superintendent Kenneth Underwood recalls that a reasonable conclusion felt impossible after the debate was hijacked by a mob of angry fundamentalist Christians. Reverend Henry Thaxton remembers feeling dismissed and disregarded by an arrogant governing class. English teacher Mildred Holt was excited to teach the works of African American writers, but when the KKK began to protest the books, she felt sure the protest was racially based. Their memories describe the charged political environment of 1974, and show how messy and destructive cultural confrontations can be, particularly in a narrow river valley where there is not much room for retreat.

Host Trey Kay was a 7th grader during the textbook protests. He rode the bus into junior high past a crowd of mothers holding picket signs. Telling the story as both the chronicler and a witness, the documentary has the personal tone of a first-person account. Combined with   exclusive interviews and archival sound of national news coverage, the documentary guides the listener through the tumultuous protests that tore this community apart while setting a new course for conservative religious politics.

 

 

Praise for Documentary

Trey Kay has produced a riveting, surprising and scrupulously fair-minded documentary about a little-known but extremely important early battle in what we now call "the culture wars." I can't imagine a better, faster way to acquire a solid, visceral understanding of the roots and long-simmering ferocity of today's angry populist right than listening to The Great Textbook War.

-Kurt Andersen, host of PRI’s Studio 360

 

Although I've written repeatedly about the famous 1974 Kanawha County fundamentalist uprising against "godless" textbooks, Trey Kay's public radio documentary nonetheless opened my ears to details and incidents I didn't know. Now I understand the mentality of the protesters better. It's a superb program and a valuable addition to West Virginia history.

-Jim Haught, editor of the Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’s largest newspaper

 

This program highlights a moment in history when our society had to face some very difficult decisions.  It’s an evocative hour of radio told from a unique perspective that brings you close to this story in an unexpected way.  I was riveted. 

- Abby Goldstein, Program Director, New Hampshire Public Radio

 

I really liked this program!  It was well produced, very interesting, had great tape from the time, a good flow and timely with the link to today’s Tea Party activism.  It hooked me in quickly and told a good story.

- Jacqueline Cincotta, Assistant Program Director, WNYC, New York City

 

 

The Radio Broadcast

The Great Textbook War premiered on West Virginia Public Radio in October 2009 and has had two encore broadcasts.  In addition, New York public radio WNYC will air the documentary this spring, PRI’s Studio 360 has requested a follow-up segment for their program and APM’s American RadioWorks for inclusion in their fall 2010 season.  

Sample Scenes

The Spark                                                                                                                                 

The textbook selection committee introduces a series of new language arts books at the Kanawha County board of education meeting on April 11, 1974. School board member Alice Moore, who has been concerned that liberal teaching methods are watering down the education system, objects to the introduction of the teaching of non-standard English. In particular, she speaks against the teaching of “dialectology,” a method that the book selection committee hoped would diminish the elitism of English classes and encourage an appreciation of language. Alice feared that incorrect grammar would affirm the practice of “ghetto English.” Since the board faced a deadline to adopt the books or lose state funding, Alice moves to accept the books and later delete materials that the board considered unsuitable. 

After the motion passed, Alice’s husband (who had been reviewing the books during the meeting) presents her with a book and says “Look at what you’ve adopted.” She reads a quote 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.” Alice, a life-long Christian, finds this passage highly offensive. She notifies the superintendent that she wants all of the books sent to her home so she can begin a personal review of other material.  After her initial review, she objected to passages by Sigmund Freud, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eldridge Cleaver and others as inappropriate material for children’s textbooks.

The Violence                                                                                                                              After the school board’s adoption of the books, many local fundamentalist preachers organize a protest campaign. Reverend Marvin Horan calls on parents to boycott the school system until the books were removed.  He opens an “Anti-Textbook Headquarters” in the coal mining community where he lives.  At this office, he and his followers develop a plan to get the books out of the schools. One strategy is to have concerned mothers set up picket lines in front of schools. Since many parents adhered to the coal miner union tradition of never crossing a picket line, families are reluctant to send their children into schools.  Many schools  operate at half (and less than half) capacity. 

Coal miner Butch Wills goes to the protest office every night after supper.  “It was a good place to loaf.  I mean, it was what was going on up here.  There was all the national news media ABC, NBC, CBS.” He says that in those meetings Rev. Horan always said, “Whatever we do, no violence.” 

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Rich says that in that office, Horan and some of his followers planned and executed dynamite bombings of two schools to discourage parents from bringing their children to school. The bombs exploded when schools were empty and no one was injured. Rich says he grew concerned that things could escalate when he heard of a plot to wire blasting caps into the gas tanks of cars of parents driving their kids to school. He moved to arrest and indict those involved. Rev. Marvin Horan was ultimately convicted of conspiring violence and sentenced to federal prison.

The Production Team                                                                                                  

Trey Kay (host, producer and reporter) has produced segments for This American LifeMarketplaceWeekend AmericaDay to DayMorning Edition and Studio 360. In 2005, he shared in a Peabody Award for 360’s “American Icons: Moby Dick” show. He was also an associate producer for “News Wars: Secrets, Sources and Spin,” a two-hour report for PBS Frontline. He is a native of Charleston, where he was a junior high school student in 1974. 

Deborah George (editor) has been an NPR editor for over fifteen years. Deb’s work has received numerous awards, including the DuPont-Columbia Gold and Silver Batons, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Casey Award for reporting on children.

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Piece Description

In 1974, Kanawha County was the first battleground in the American culture wars. Controversy erupted over newly-adopted school textbooks. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, buses were riddled with bullets and surrounding coal mines were shut down by protesting miners. Textbook supporters thought they would introduce students to new ideas about multiculturalism. Opponents felt the books undermined traditional American values. The controversy extended well beyond the Kanawha Valley. The newly-formed Heritage Foundation found a cause to rally an emerging Christian conservative movement. This documentary tells the story of that local confrontation and the effect that it had on the future of American politics.

 

The Documentary                                                                                                                        More than 40 interviews and archival sound of school board meetings, public debates and news reports bring the story of the Kanawha County textbook wars to life. School board member Alice Moore, who led the opposition to the books, describes what she found objectionable, and more broadly, how she felt traditional family values were under attack. Superintendent Kenneth Underwood recalls that a reasonable conclusion felt impossible after the debate was hijacked by a mob of angry fundamentalist Christians. Reverend Henry Thaxton remembers feeling dismissed and disregarded by an arrogant governing class. English teacher Mildred Holt was excited to teach the works of African American writers, but when the KKK began to protest the books, she felt sure the protest was racially based. Their memories describe the charged political environment of 1974, and show how messy and destructive cultural confrontations can be, particularly in a narrow river valley where there is not much room for retreat.

Host Trey Kay was a 7th grader during the textbook protests. He rode the bus into junior high past a crowd of mothers holding picket signs. Telling the story as both the chronicler and a witness, the documentary has the personal tone of a first-person account. Combined with   exclusive interviews and archival sound of national news coverage, the documentary guides the listener through the tumultuous protests that tore this community apart while setting a new course for conservative religious politics.

 

 

Praise for Documentary

Trey Kay has produced a riveting, surprising and scrupulously fair-minded documentary about a little-known but extremely important early battle in what we now call "the culture wars." I can't imagine a better, faster way to acquire a solid, visceral understanding of the roots and long-simmering ferocity of today's angry populist right than listening to The Great Textbook War.

-Kurt Andersen, host of PRI’s Studio 360

 

Although I've written repeatedly about the famous 1974 Kanawha County fundamentalist uprising against "godless" textbooks, Trey Kay's public radio documentary nonetheless opened my ears to details and incidents I didn't know. Now I understand the mentality of the protesters better. It's a superb program and a valuable addition to West Virginia history.

-Jim Haught, editor of the Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’s largest newspaper

 

This program highlights a moment in history when our society had to face some very difficult decisions.  It’s an evocative hour of radio told from a unique perspective that brings you close to this story in an unexpected way.  I was riveted. 

- Abby Goldstein, Program Director, New Hampshire Public Radio

 

I really liked this program!  It was well produced, very interesting, had great tape from the time, a good flow and timely with the link to today’s Tea Party activism.  It hooked me in quickly and told a good story.

- Jacqueline Cincotta, Assistant Program Director, WNYC, New York City

 

 

The Radio Broadcast

The Great Textbook War premiered on West Virginia Public Radio in October 2009 and has had two encore broadcasts.  In addition, New York public radio WNYC will air the documentary this spring, PRI’s Studio 360 has requested a follow-up segment for their program and APM’s American RadioWorks for inclusion in their fall 2010 season.  

Sample Scenes

The Spark                                                                                                                                 

The textbook selection committee introduces a series of new language arts books at the Kanawha County board of education meeting on April 11, 1974. School board member Alice Moore, who has been concerned that liberal teaching methods are watering down the education system, objects to the introduction of the teaching of non-standard English. In particular, she speaks against the teaching of “dialectology,” a method that the book selection committee hoped would diminish the elitism of English classes and encourage an appreciation of language. Alice feared that incorrect grammar would affirm the practice of “ghetto English.” Since the board faced a deadline to adopt the books or lose state funding, Alice moves to accept the books and later delete materials that the board considered unsuitable. 

After the motion passed, Alice’s husband (who had been reviewing the books during the meeting) presents her with a book and says “Look at what you’ve adopted.” She reads a quote 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.” Alice, a life-long Christian, finds this passage highly offensive. She notifies the superintendent that she wants all of the books sent to her home so she can begin a personal review of other material.  After her initial review, she objected to passages by Sigmund Freud, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eldridge Cleaver and others as inappropriate material for children’s textbooks.

The Violence                                                                                                                              After the school board’s adoption of the books, many local fundamentalist preachers organize a protest campaign. Reverend Marvin Horan calls on parents to boycott the school system until the books were removed.  He opens an “Anti-Textbook Headquarters” in the coal mining community where he lives.  At this office, he and his followers develop a plan to get the books out of the schools. One strategy is to have concerned mothers set up picket lines in front of schools. Since many parents adhered to the coal miner union tradition of never crossing a picket line, families are reluctant to send their children into schools.  Many schools  operate at half (and less than half) capacity. 

Coal miner Butch Wills goes to the protest office every night after supper.  “It was a good place to loaf.  I mean, it was what was going on up here.  There was all the national news media ABC, NBC, CBS.” He says that in those meetings Rev. Horan always said, “Whatever we do, no violence.” 

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Rich says that in that office, Horan and some of his followers planned and executed dynamite bombings of two schools to discourage parents from bringing their children to school. The bombs exploded when schools were empty and no one was injured. Rich says he grew concerned that things could escalate when he heard of a plot to wire blasting caps into the gas tanks of cars of parents driving their kids to school. He moved to arrest and indict those involved. Rev. Marvin Horan was ultimately convicted of conspiring violence and sentenced to federal prison.

The Production Team                                                                                                  

Trey Kay (host, producer and reporter) has produced segments for This American LifeMarketplaceWeekend AmericaDay to DayMorning Edition and Studio 360. In 2005, he shared in a Peabody Award for 360’s “American Icons: Moby Dick” show. He was also an associate producer for “News Wars: Secrets, Sources and Spin,” a two-hour report for PBS Frontline. He is a native of Charleston, where he was a junior high school student in 1974. 

Deborah George (editor) has been an NPR editor for over fifteen years. Deb’s work has received numerous awards, including the DuPont-Columbia Gold and Silver Batons, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Casey Award for reporting on children.

3 Comments Atom Feed

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great work

Such an interesting insight to an episode in American history - and its reverberations in today's political climate. Wonderfully executed!

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Really gives meaning to "fair and balanced!"

The opening really grabbed me. The music is wonderful.

I can't believe such "radical" textbooks were available in '74!! I graduated high school in '73 in the San Fernando Valley of California, a very conservative place, but no W. Va, and I only started reading stuff like that in jr. college -- and MOST curricula didn't teach that stuff; it was just a few pretty radical teachers who did!

I was expecting another "narrow minded hillbilly" story. I have people in KY, TN and W Va, and I'm pretty sick of that crap, in spite of the "monkey trials," NASCAR and bubbas.

I wish the piece told me what grade level text books had quotes from Malcom X, et al and Freud.

Parenthetically, I hate Freud; he's a sexist, homophobic, phallocentric jack ass and I wish he wasn't taught in schools, ever, except in historical
context including the damage he did, esp. to women and Queers.

I'd like to know why 4 letter words and sexually I can't remember the word used... but ... language was used. I understand about Ginsberg and, while I know he's literally pun intended a mouth full, again, what grade?

I love that argument: Should Blacks be represented by "the Eldridge Cleavers?" It's a good point, unless the books contain counter balance to racial stereotypes. I have problems with Mr. Cleaver, too. Didn't he say a woman's place in Black Power was spread eagle, on the floor? I only wish the Black minister had addressed that, rather than the "antiChristian" and "unpatriotic" line.

"Words and ideas can never harm me" Love that and the audience's reaction. Thanks for using that.

The background on the miners is wonderful.

More emphasis, please, on out of towners, coming in to exploit the situation. I remember Bob Dornan from California. jees.
They don't want outsiders influencing their schools? Bob Dornan? Nice history of heritage foundation, etc. I never knew that.

The history of the escelllation of violence: that's hard to report in any sort of rational way. Good job. Snipers? Jees.

Did I miss it, or was the violence a direct result of influences by outside agitators? I know they had that rumor of a Black protest, before the agitators. And I know how my people are when they feel threatened.

"Cabal of cultural elitists:" that's such a good phrase. And it's true, I'm afraid. The so called "progressives" are a little too interested in interfering in folks' lives "for their own good," too often. It doesn't teach more conservative people to be more open minded; it teaches them to fear, resent and suspect the motives of these so called "progressives." The phrase is powerful and respectful of the feelings of those who opposed the textbooks. It doesn't describe them as
ignorant, superstitious and small minded. You can tell a West Virginian, even if an affluent one, is involved in this project. Classy.

"We 'bout made a redneck outta him that night." Brilliant. Thanks for leaving that in. I love Appalachia's humor about herself. The story wouldn't be complete without statements like this. Again, this shows love and respect for these people, humanizes them, doesn't allow the listeners to fall into stereotypical and black/white thinking about the issues.

...followed by that hideous plan to blow up a car full of kids. So, no sentimental covering up of how brutal things can get. Creepy music back not necessary, but I understand it. I think I'd have left it out. The horror of what they contemplated didn't need the extra emotional push of the music, IMO, but what do I know? Still, I don't think that's why this one a Peabody.

The Episcopal minister, the idea of reconciliation, it's wonderful. That's a hero. Another bubba stereotype bites the dust.

"When the textbook war was over..." made me think, I've always believed the Civil War still isn't over. And I doubt the textbook war, which is looking like an argument for my position on the Civil War, isn't over, either.

Finally, I can define myself: I'm a liberal redneck!

Beowolf is a dirty book, so the conservative schools didn't win, either. So's the Bible. Song of Solomon?

The "it's time for us to grow up..." speech is gorgeous.

"Who does own the child?" is the wrong question. THAT is master mentality!

The heritage foundation is scary.

Chicken and apple pie. Salmonella and high fructose corn syrup.

"In 1974, when we got started, there was no Fox News (sic). . . ." I hope this scares the snot out of your listeners. We have GOT to take the concerns of conservative people seriously and figure out some way of having a conversation. This documentary does a lot to help that happen. It's so level headed. It's not some sensationalized depiction of a "hillbilly" freak show.

Me, I think there was condescension, belittling, threats and taunts on both sides, especially with the outsider press, like the Village Voice's take on things.

"...believing the world would be better if the other side just went away."

I came to tears at least six times during this piece. As the closing credits run, I'm crying openly now.

They should teach THIS in schools.

Thank you SO MUCH!

And congratulations on the Peabody Award. They made a good call.

PS: I realize Mr. Kay grew up on The Hill, but NO W. Va. accent, at all? Is there a camp to reprogram hill people to sound like generic news casters? Do they employ water boarding?

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outstanding work!

This piece was very enjoyable, easy to listen to, and tastefully objective. Bravo.

Timing and Cues

CUE SHEET - "THE GREAT TEXTBOOK WAR"

BILLBOARD
0:00 IN: (music) "In 1974, a storm was brewing..."
0:59 OUT: "Coming up the Great Textbook War."

SEG A
1:00 IN: "Ya dirty theaives! Dirty theives!"
18:44 OUT: "...after this short break." (music fades)

MUSIC BREAK #1
18:45 music starts
19:44 music ends

SEG B
19:45 IN: "You're listening to The Great Textbook War..."
45:59 OUT: "...after this short break." (music fades)

MUSIC BREAK #2
46:00 music starts
46:59 music ends

SEG C
47:00 IN: "You're listening to The Great Textbook War..."
58:59 OUT: "I'm Trey Kay."