In April 1974 the five members of the Kanawha County Textbook Selection Committee, supported by teacher readers from elementary and secondary schools, recommended the adoption of new textbooks designed to support an English Language programme to be taught in the County’s schools. The textbooks included a wide diversity of views and opinions and exposed children in the Appalachian region to other cultures and new ideas. Following the impact of the civil rights movement across the USA during the 1960s, the textbooks included stories and poems by, and about, African-Americans and other minorities and narrative stories emphasising tolerance and the acceptance of alternative and different traditions and cultures. The books also included approaches to pedagogy which included simulation and the development of critical thinking skills. The recommended list was presented to the Kanawha County School Board on 12th March 1974, and the books were displayed in the Kanawha County Library for public examination.
On 16th May when the Textbook Selection Committee presented its adoption justification the School Board agreed to make a final decision on 27th June regarding the formal adoption of the books. The decision to consider adopting the books caused uproar in the community and in a nine month period between April 1974 and January 1975, mobs throwing rocks forced the County’s one hundred and twenty four public schools to close, demonstrators surrounded schools and blockaded school bus garages, two people were shot, schools were dynamited and firebombed and teachers were threatened. Coal miners went on strike in support of the protest, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in the streets of Charleston and a preacher and his followers discussed murdering families who wouldn’t join the school boycott (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993).
The local Revs. Avis Hill, Marvin Horan, Charles Quigley and Ezra Graley of Nitro emerged as outspoken leaders against the textbooks -- leading rallies, prayer meetings and protests. Hill and Graley served time in jail for defying a court order.
Horan was sentenced to three years for conspiracy to blow up two elementary schools, a crime for which many say he was framed and for which he still claims his innocence.
Christian right educator Robert Thoburn, has claimed that “… public schools are immoral ... they breed criminals. They teach [children] they’re animals that they evolved from animals” (quoted in Gehrman, 1987:14). Thoburn urged Christians to run for school boards but not to reveal their motives:
“Christians should run for the school board. This may sound like strange advice. After all, I have said that Christians should have nothing to do with the public schools. What I meant was that Christians should not allow their children to have anything to do with public schools. This does not mean that we should have nothing to do with them.... Our goal is not to make the schools better.... The goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow. . . . Our goal as God-fearing, uncompromised ... Christians is to shut down the public schools, not in some revolutionary way, but step by step, school by school, district by district”(1986:159).
Among other complaints was the use of open-ended questions to encourage independent thought and analysis. “Parents complained that questions concerning the students’ feelings, their experiences and their home life constitute an invasion of privacy. They have contended, also, that students should not be asked what they think or how they should behave; they should be told what to think and how to behave” (West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State 1975:345).
October 1974 proved to be the most violent month of the protest. On 6th October, following a rally attended by 3,000 protesters calling for another boycott of schools, Avis Hill, Ezra Graley and seventeen others are arrested, placed in prison and fined for violating a court order. On 9th October the protest took a deeply disturbing turn when West Branch Elementary School in Cabin Creek was dynamited and Midway Elementary School in Campbell’s Creek was firebombed and then dynamited. Sticks of dynamite and pipe bombs were found beneath bridges, near houses and in and around several Kanawha County schools. On 11th October Molotov cocktails were thrown at Chandler Elementary School and on 14th October Loudendale Elementary School was firebombed. Perhaps most disturbing the School Board narrowly missed being assassinated when 15 dynamite sticks went off by the gas meter of the building they were in minutes after they had left. One of the bombers testified later that he and others had considered “… bombing carloads of children as a way to stop people that was sending their kids to school, letting them learn out of books they knew was wrong” (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993:12). Against this violent background school attendance dropped to 25%.
Some miners on a picket line Thursday at Smith Transfer Co. at Bell[e] echoed the claim that the eruption is now a labor dispute.
"Up to last night it was a protest," miner who refused to identify himself claimed.
"Now it's a strike. If they don't have this thing settled by Sunday I'm going to drive to Harlan County, Ky. and get help. They owe us a favor."
ANOTHER objected to the presence of black police officers at a protest line late Wednesday.
"They sent two coon detectives. You know two niggers N-I-G-G-E-R-S. Now you print that."
The list of language textbooks that were considered for adoption in 1974 included:
The basic textbooks series were:
Communicating D.C. Heath Publishing Co. -- for use in all elementary schools
Dynamics of Language, D.C. Heath Publishing Co. -- for use by about 80 percent of students grades 7- 12
Contemporary English, Silver Burdett Publishing Co. -- for use by about 20 percent of students grades 7-12
The supplemental titles were:
Language of Man Series, McDougal, Littell and Co.
Interaction, Houghton Mifflin Co.
Breakthrough,Allyn and Bacon Inc.
Man Series,McDougal, Littell and Co.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Paradise Lost by John Milton
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Iliad by Homer
Animal Farm by George Orwell
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