Reading Appalachia from Left to Right
Conservatives and the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy
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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Title Page, Copyright
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List of Illustrations
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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 signifi cant salt industry thrived on the riverbanks. After the Civil War, coal became a prominent industry, followed by chemical refi neries. Kanawha County in the late 1960s and early 1970s ...
I N TRODUCT IONSoul on Appalachian Ice
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...“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 fi rst raised objections to the multiethnic lan-...
CH A P T ER ONEA Modern American Confl ict
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Who is this Kanawha County protester whose image was widely distributed (see fi gure 5)? Staring down the camera with a look of defi ance, she fi t 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, edi-...
CH A P T ER TWOTrue Sons of Appalachia
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The Kanawha County textbook controversy, like other curriculum dis-putes 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, pro-...
CH A P T ER THR EESweet Alice and Secular Humanism
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Unlike George Dietz, Ed Miller, and William Pierce, Alice Moore was universally portrayed as a central fi gure if not the sole instigator of the textbook controversy. Representations of her were as diametrically opposed as media takes on the confl ict as a whole: she was either reviled or revered. An illustration of her printed in the local newspaper revealed Moore to be ...
CH A P T ER FOURReproducing the Souls of White Folk
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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 ...
CH A P T ER F I V EThe Right Soul
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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 Vol-unteers in Service to America, charity do-gooders, progressive ministers, ...
E PI LOGUEWriting Appalachia
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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 ...
A PPENDI XKeywords
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Entries for each of the following terms, all of which are contentious and troublesome, are not technical defi nitions. Instead, they are descriptions intended to indicate basic assumptions behind the use of each term in this book and in relation to the 1974 Kanawha County textbook controversy.Appalachia A physical and imaginary space within the United States. As ...
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Sources and Selected Bibliography
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Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009