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Reading Appalachia from Left to Right

Conservatives and the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy

Carol Mason

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Prologue: Reading Appalachia

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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. ...

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Introduction: Soul on Appalachian Ice

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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. ...

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1. A Modern American Conflict

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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. ...

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2. True Sons of Appalachia

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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, ...

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3. Sweet Alice and Secular Humanism

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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. ...

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4. Reproducing the Souls of White Folk

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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. ...

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5. The Right Soul

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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. ...

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Epilogue: Writing Appalachia

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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, ...

Appendix: Keywords

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pp. 189-196


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pp. 197-222

Sources and Selected Bibliography

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pp. 223-234


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pp. 235-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780801459856
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801447280

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 726824258
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reading Appalachia from Left to Right

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Textbooks -- West Virginia -- Kanawha County.
  • Multicultural education -- Curricula -- West Virginia -- Kanawha County.
  • Language arts -- Curricula -- West Virginia -- Kanawha County.
  • Culture conflict -- West Virginia -- Kanawha County.
  • Ethnic conflict -- West Virginia -- Kanawha County.
  • Community and school -- West Virginia -- Kanawha County.
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