Reading Appalachia from Left to Right

Reading Appalachia from Left to Right: Conservatives and the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy

Carol Mason
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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    Reading Appalachia from Left to Right
    Book Description:

    In Reading Appalachia from Left to Right, Carol Mason examines the legacies of a pivotal 1974 curriculum dispute in West Virginia that heralded the rightward shift in American culture and politics. At a time when black nationalists and white conservatives were both maligned as extremists for opposing education reform, the wife of a fundamentalist preacher who objected to new language-arts textbooks featuring multiracial literature sparked the yearlong conflict. It was the most violent textbook battle in America, inspiring mass marches, rallies by white supremacists, boycotts by parents, and strikes by coal miners. Schools were closed several times due to arson and dynamite while national and international news teams descended on Charleston.

    A native of Kanawha County, Mason infuses local insight into this study of historically left-leaning protesters ushering in cultural conservatism. Exploring how reports of the conflict as a hillbilly feud affected all involved, she draws on substantial archival research and interviews with Klansmen, evangelicals, miners, bombers, and businessmen, a who, like herself, were residents of Kanawha County during the dispute. Mason investigates vulgar accusations of racism that precluded a richer understanding of how ethnicity, race, class, and gender blended together as white protesters set out to protect "our children's souls."

    In the process, she demonstrates how the significance of the controversy goes well beyond resistance to social change on the part of Christian fundamentalists or a cultural clash between elite educators and working-class citizens. The alliances, tactics, and political discourses that emerged in the Kanawha Valley in 1974 crossed traditional lines, inspiring innovations in neo-Nazi organizing, propelling Christian conservatism into the limelight, and providing models for women of the New Right.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5985-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. IX-XI)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. XII-XII)
  5. PROLOGUE: Reading Appalachia
    (pp. 1-18)

    With two rivers, the Elk and the Kanawha, merging in the middle of it, Kanawha County was probably always a place of meeting and exchange. Before the Civil War, a significant salt industry thrived on the riverbanks. After the Civil War, coal became a prominent industry, followed by chemical refineries. Kanawha County in the late 1960s and early 1970s covered 907 square miles, including the city of Charleston, which has been the state capital since 1885. In 1975, Charleston’s population included 67,348 residents, 10 percent of whom were African American. “Less than 1 percent of the population” of the entire...

  6. INTRODUCTION: Soul on Appalachian Ice
    (pp. 19-28)

    “This is not a minister’s battle,” Donald Dobbs insisted, speaking into a microphone. Five members of the Kanawha County Board of Education and a crowd of fellow West Virginians listened on a rainy June evening in 1974. Among them was Alice Moore, the only woman on the board of education and the one who first raised objections to the multiethnic language arts curriculum—more than three hundred titles encompassing instruction for students enrolled in kindergarten through high school—that had been adopted for use throughout the West Virginia county. Although he was flattered to be asked to represent other clergy,...

  7. CHAPTER ONE A Modern American Conflict
    (pp. 29-56)

    Who is this Kanawha County protester whose image was widely distributed (see figure 5)? Staring down the camera with a look of defiance, she fit the bill of a news media that, by 1974, was accustomed to serving images of Appalachia not as information but as entertainment and affectation. Reproducing the photograph in the New York Times with no caption, editors must have assumed it spoke for itself. But what assumptions were readers to make?

    Was it that the protester is pathetic because she does not know that grammatically she should have written “the difference between communism and freedom”? In...

  8. CHAPTER TWO True Sons of Appalachia
    (pp. 57-90)

    The Kanawha County textbook controversy, like other curriculum disputes that preceded and followed it, was an opportunity for people to articulate their individual and collective position in relation to national identity. As education historians Jonathan Zimmerman and Joseph Moreau have shown in their histories of U.S. curriculum disputes, protesters of textbooks throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often deployed populist demands for inclusion in or control over “the national story,” that is, in the narrative of how America developed as a nation, as variously delineated in textbooks.¹ Some protesters in Kanawha County were saying what was said decades before and...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Sweet Alice and Secular Humanism
    (pp. 91-132)

    Unlike George Dietz, Ed Miller, and William Pierce, Alice Moore was universally portrayed as a central figure if not the sole instigator of the textbook controversy. Representations of her were as diametrically opposed as media takes on the conflict as a whole: she was either reviled or revered. An illustration of her printed in the local newspaper revealed Moore to be a distortion of womanhood, with a slack-jawed face with a look of intolerance and suspicion (see figure 8.) Such a caricature portrayed Moore as ignorant, dull, and dumbfounded rather than how she really was: articulate, outspoken, and attractive. Generally...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Reproducing the Souls of White Folk
    (pp. 133-166)

    The previous chapter discussed how Connie Marshner’s Blackboard Tyranny aimed to inspire mothers to assume the prescribed role of defender against secular humanism—in effect, to see themselves as Sweet Alices, feminine conservative Christian activists. In this way, Blackboard Tyranny is an excellent example of how political discourse narrates subjects as victims with an untouchable American core—a protester’s soul—that compels them to fight back. If people were already possessed of this fighting spirit then books such as Blackboard Tyranny would not need to exist. But there is a need for such instruction because political discourse actually creates the...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Right Soul
    (pp. 167-182)

    In 1979 Bill Best, a professor at Berea College in Kentucky, published a controversial essay in Mountain Review titled “Stripping Appalachian Soul.” It was a psychological diagnosis of the trend of volunteerism that swept through the mountain South in the 1960s. Those left-leaning Volunteers in Service to America, charity do-gooders, progressive ministers, and red-diaper babies were motivated, according to Best, by a “moral code based on guilt. They feel that part of their material largess and relative social privilege have been gained, at least partially, at the expense of those ‘less fortunate’ (conceptualized in a remote, abstract, collective sense), and...

  12. EPILOGUE: Writing Appalachia
    (pp. 183-188)

    In the last few weeks of 1974, every kid in Kanawha County, including me, came home from school with a permission slip, which, if signed, allowed access to the new language arts curriculum. Researching and writing this book was a challenge for many reasons, but mostly it was a sweet deal to go back to 1974, a time when I was enrolled in the Kanawha County public school system as a ten year old. This project has been my anchor through the last few years and reconnected me to my childhood home in an important new way. So I am...

  13. APPENDIX: Keywords
    (pp. 189-196)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 197-222)
  15. Sources and Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 223-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-242)