Less than 3 months after protests began over the adoption of new textbooks in Kanawha County, these were the words used by county school superintendent Kenneth Underwood to explain why schools were to be closed for four days in September of 1974.
In a school board meeting of April that year, the vote to adopt these new textbooks--which included more multiracial content, had passed unanimously due to the urgency of securing state funding. Upon discovering excerpts from scholars such as Sigmund Freud, the inclusion of scientific evidence to support the theory of evolution, and selections from books such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, some Charleston residents and educators wished to return to older textbooks that had been produced in the 1950s. Board member Alice Moore strongly objected to the content of the new textbooks and demanded they be removed. According to Moore, the new books were filthy, disgusting trash. She was particularly concerned that the new books presented a view of American history and culture that unduly favor[ed] blacks.
Moore was overruled by her peers, who believed that the books were appropriate and offered a needed corrective to some of the older books that presented slavery as a benign institution. Moore decided to take her message directly to constituents. Campaigning in evangelical churches and rural communities soon framed the issue as one of conservative, traditional values against liberal intellectual urban elites. Despite the presence of a thousand protesters outside the school board meeting in June, the board continued to support the new books. In return, Moore and her supporters vowed to increase pressure on the board to accept their point of view by any means necessary. 2
By July, protests against the book were being held around the city and county. The textbooks were condemned by 27 ministers, while ten ministers who reviewed the books took the side of the educators and administrators. Marvin Horan, a self-taught Christian fundamentalist preacher, soon emerged as one of the most outspoken voices calling for the removal of the textbooks. With Horan and others taking control of the movement, protesters began calling for the books to be set on fire. Others vowed to shut down the schools unless the school board replaced the books. Business owners who supported the school board and teachers were picketed. Protesters even blocked roads to prevent school buses from taking children to school.
By early September, more than 3,000 West Virginia miners in surrounding coal field joined the protests. An agreement by the school board to remove the books from schools until further review failed to placate the picketers as the original concerns about the content of the books exploded into an angry protest against the perception that America was changing in ways that might lessen the authority of conservative Christians and create advantages for minorities. School children typically sided with their parents, but when the announcement was made that books were to be removed, 1,200 students walked out of George Washington High School and demanded the right to be taught with current textbooks that reflected the most current scientific theories and included diverse perspectives.
So began a season of marches, parades, rallies, scuffles, shootings, fistfights, strikes, picketing, boycotts, debates, arrests, lawsuits, court orders and angry sermons. One preacher prayed fervently and publicly for the death of three school board members.4In October 1974, a small number of the anti-textbook coalition decided to commit acts of violence against property in hopes of intimidating their opponents. Against the wished of many who agreed with their position, a small number of anti-textbook protesters conspired to bomb several of the county's public schools with dynamite and molotov cocktails. Fifteen sticks of dynamite were detonated near the gas meter at the Board of Education offices. Despite the damage to the building and potential devastation of the attack, no one was injured.