PZ had a post about a guy experiencing death threats because of his atheism. I’ve written in the past about creationist threats of violence, and PZ’s post made me think this might be an good time to revisit the Kanawha Textbook craziness.
I’m always surprised by how few people know about this. There’s a page on Wikipedia, although it’s a pretty mild description of what really happened.
In March 1974, the English Textbook Committee of Kanawha County, West Virginia chose two textbooks that made a new board member flip out. She said they were “filthy, trashy, disgusting, one-sidedly in favor of blacks, and unpatriotic”. It did not help that the books “promoted a climate of belief in evolution.”*
She was overruled on the book choice, and then everyone lost their minds. To quote from a Charleston Newspaper story:
School buses are riddled with sniper bullets, gas lines are cut, windshields broken, and bomb threats disrupt schools daily. Students, parents, custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, teachers, board members, judges, and law enforcement officers continue to receive personal threats of all kinds. …..One minister has prayed publicly for the deaths of three board members. Workers have been shot and their cars destroyed when crossing picket lines.
Oh, and the Klan got involved too. The Klan wasn’t doing all of this though; it was God-Fearin’ Christians:
On 9th October West Branch Elementary School was dynamited and Midway Elementary School in Campbell’s Creek was firebombed and then dynamited.
On 11th October Molotov cocktails were thrown at Chandler Elementary School and on 14th October Loudendale Elementary School was firebombed.
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”….on the 12th November a school bus was hit with a shotgun blast. (–quoted from ‘Godless Books’)
The Gablers also got involved, and a relatively newly-founded Heritage Foundation.While evolution was not the primary issue for the chaos, many scholars point to Kanawha as the beginning of the fundamentalist war against secularism.
I marked this post as a “WTF” because the story is just so mindboggling. The part I find the most amazing, though, each time I revisit this history, is this one:
“Among other complaints was the use of open-ended questions to encourage independent thought and analysis. “Parents….contended ….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”
- News articles from the time of the protests, including a shooting, a beating, another shooting, and some really obnoxious quotes, and a personal letter showing what the “good Christians” were capable of.
- A nice chapter from a book you can read as a PDF: Godless Books
- Scholarly article:The Kanawha County Textbook Controversy: A Study of the Politics of Life Style Concern. Social Forces, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Sep., 1978)
*The Creationist Movement in Modern America. Eve & Harrold 1991.(print resource)
Oh and in case you missed it: Yet more proof that some people really will kill you over their magic book.