Kanawha County USA

One of you recommended this radio documentary on the Kanawha County text book riots of 1974. I just finished listening to it and found it very interesting, despite its public radio “shape of earth, views differ” viewpoint (which isn’t inappropriate throughout but certainly is when it equates “condescension” with school bombings).

If you’ve got time and haven’t listened to it before, I recommend it. There’s a lot there — the origins of contemporary curriculum fights (which we see now reaching their horrible conclusion in Texas), the birth of the Heritage Foundation, and other fun stuff.

One thing I’m always struck by when reading news from this era is the amount of right-wing terrorism that went on. I don’t know why the Joe Kleins of the world remember the Weathermen so well when they’ve forgotten all about Bombingham.






29 replies
  1. 1
    El Cid says:

    Terror bombings and murders from white supremacists always far outnumbered and outkilled any ‘leftist’ violence, but it doesn’t count because it’s only worthwhile to discuss the Weather Underground and Bill Ayers.

  2. 2
    Yutsano says:

    @El Cid:

    but it doesn’t count because it’s only worthwhile to discuss the Weather Underground and Bill Ayers. violence when done in the name of threatening the straight white male oligarchy.

    Fixteth. Though it took me awhile to find the exact wording I wanted.

  3. 3
    KG says:

    OT but we were discussing it the other day, the result of the Temecula Mosque/Islamic Center did not go as some had planned.

  4. 4
    Matt says:

    Also interesting are the Peekskill Riots, or as the newly released FBI file of Howard Zinn calls them, “the Peekskill Disorders”.

  5. 5
    Mike G says:

    @KG:

    Bennett took her dog Meadow to the protest, knowing that many Muslims believe that the saliva of dogs is impure.

    What, she was expecting the Muslims to make out with any pets that were present?

    …drove his pickup truck past the Islamic Center twice, calling Muslims “pedophiles”…calling Islam a “Stone Age” religion.

    So much irony there you could start a mining operation.

  6. 6

    I remember all that shit going on over the hill West Virginny. For some reason, I don’t remember any of it in e. Kentucky, at least where I lived. We were taught evolution and all that godless commie shit and there certainly weren’t school riots.

    But then, were I grew up most everyone carry a piece in a nervous stasis that demanded a degree of politeness. Maybe because the preachers in my dry county were preoccupied with keeping demon rum off the super market shelves, existing in an unholy alliance with the bootlegging industry, that also didn’t want whiskey sold legal.

    You haven’t lived until pulling up to broken down camper trailer in the middle of the woods, with a window cut out, and ordering a six pack of Schlitz from a bug eyed toothless fucker with a six shooter sitting on the window ledge. I was 16 the first time I did it. My first breakfast of champions.

  7. 7
    debbie says:

    I was living in Boston in 1974 and remember the busing riots, but I can’t believe people would riot over textbooks.

  8. 8
    Yutsano says:

    @General Stuck:

    You haven’t lived until pulling up to broken down camper trailer in the middle of the woods, with a window cut out, and ordering a six pack of Schlitz from a bug eyed toothless fucker with a six shooter sitting on the window ledge. I was 16 the first time I did it. My first breakfast of champions.

    I can’t rightly decide if this is TMI or sheer genius. Perhaps a little bit of both.

  9. 9
    Toast says:

    I don’t know why the Joe Kleins of the world remember the Weathermen so well when they’ve forgotten all about Bombingham.

    Because IOKIYAR. The applicability of that rule knows no limits.

  10. 10
    Keith G says:

    @Yutsano:

    I can’t rightly decide if this is TMI or sheer genius. Perhaps a little bit of both

    It’s pretty good.

  11. 11
  12. 12
    Mumphrey says:

    “I don’t know why the Joe Kleins of the world remember the Weathermen so well when they’ve forgotten all about Bombingham.”

    A lot of “liberals” look at hippies and even blacks and they somehow just don’t see them as fully American. I don’t know why that should be. I mean, the hippies, well, I can almost understand that. But blacks have been part of America for as long as whites have.

    Well, even so, I think there are a lot of Kleins out there who think they’re good liberals, since they voted for Clinton or something, but they’ve bought into the latent racism that still swirls around us all, everyday, that counts blacks as not really “American”. You see it when somebody blathers that this or that Democratic victory somehow “doesn’t count”, since if you threw all the black votes out, well, the Republican would have won.

    I think this Weathermen thing is somehow akin to that: craaaaaazy-ass black people with all their agitating and not being happy with their lot here, well, that just isn’t right; it isn’t American; it isn’t how we do things here; it’s so… distasteful.

    Drunken inbred white losers blowing up churches or stringing up uppity blacks, though… Well, naturally enough, all good Americans deplore such things. But somehow, it just isn’t really as big a deal as the scary, craaaazy-ass black guys hanging out at some polling booth or something, besides all the real racist violence was so long ago, you know, can’t we all just get beyond it and move on?

    I think the only way you can explain that kind of thinking is that lots of Americans really don’t think of blacks as really, truly American. They aren’t like us. They’re scary and craaaazy, and sexed up, and, well, just look at any inner city: they just clearly can’t get their shit together, can they? They drink, take drugs, shoot each other in the street, they can’t hold jobs, their houses are falling down…

    We live in a country where whites have said for 350 or 400 years that blacks just aren’t as good or worthy as whites. I guess it doesn’t shock me that lots of Americans, even some Kleinian liberals have bought into it, at least unconsciously.

    50 years ago, racism was easy to see: it was the law in a lot of states, and that made it easy to see and easier to fight. It was like a wall. You can dig under a wall; you can clmb it or knock it down. Racism today is more like a fog: it’s all around us, everywhere, every day, but since it’s a fog, you can go through life not really seeing it or feeling it. I think a lot of whites do. (I’m white and I’m sure there are all kinds of racism areound me that I don’t pick up on.) But I bet black people feel it, cold and clammy, every day.

    But the problem is that, since it’s a fog, you can’t fight it so easily. How do you fight a fog? I guess the best way is to try to get society to burn it off by becoming wiser about race and its effects. But it’s hard to get society to wise up if more than half of us can’t or won’t even see that it’s there.

  13. 13
    demo woman says:

    During the 60’s and 70’s numerous books were written on the poverty in Appalachia. It seems as though the evangelicals were forgiven because of their upbringing. I don’t mean to be simplistic but it’s the only thing I can think of. I read The Other America and I drove through the Appalachians in the early seventies but I don’t remember violence associated with book burning. What I remember is people living in squalor.

  14. 14

    @demo woman: Driving through it doesn’t really give you the full dose of poverty and squalor. even today. Where I grew up was relatively upscale to what I saw when I went to work for the government and traveled into the darkest parts of Appalachia. Words cannot describe, but one thing I witnessed kind of sums it up. In a backwoods community that was only reachable by way of rutted dirt roads, up until you had to travel on foot over a couple of swinging bridges, where I saw the community bathroom of two boards wedged into tree branches over a creek with some kind taking a dump into the creek below. That was in 1980, and I doubt it has changed that much for the really remote parts of Appalachia, that are many.

  15. 15
    zhak says:

    You know what strikes me about the choices we’ve made collectively as a nation the last 40 years or so? Just about every time there’s been a debate about anything, we’ve sided not with the rational & good, but with the irrational & bad.

    I don’t understand why this is so but it upsets me very much.

    The crazies have been running the asylum for decades, iow, and instead of anybody with any power saying “hey, wait a minute, those folks, they’re nuts!” we instead get “absolutely we wish to find common ground with those people who think the earth is flat and brown people are racist and evil.” It makes no sense, and it hasn’t for many many years.

  16. 16
    Bobzim says:

    Damn. Not only did I live that ordeal, but I was interviewed in the doc. @debbie: is closest to what actually drove that mess.

    When you hear Randy Moss talk about “Rand University”, you’re hearing an alternate title to this documentary.

    At first, I was peeved at Trey Kay for being even-handed when it wasn’t deserved, but I began to realize that that’s the only way truth wins out; make ’em comfortable and let ’em speak their mind. (Also, no one wants to be called the Appalachian equivalent of National Palestinian Radio.)

    There are a lot of Perfect-Stormish elements to this story, but the take-away – as is with the Texas textbook bullshit – is that ignorant, irrational white people spread ignorant irrationality.

    If you’ve listened to the program and heard the story about the rumor of carloads of black people heading up the holler, you will start to understand how Don Blankenship does what he does.

  17. 17
    Chad N Freude says:

    @General Stuck: Why does this make me think of what I’ve read about parts of Afghanistan?

  18. 18
    Bobzim says:

    @Chad N Freude: Poverty is as much a symptom of the ignorance – and not as widespread as you think – as the fight over textbooks.

    Got that? Ignorance causes poverty – not the other way around – and carpetbaggers like the Heritage Foundation use it to their own advantage.

    Hot-Buttered Soul and the UMWA’s ill-fated Right-To-Strike victory were far more influential than “poverty”.

  19. 19
    Honus says:

    Except Kanawha County isn’t up some hollow somewhere, in 1974 Charleston was the largest city in the state at about 100,000 people, with the state capitol and four colleges within a 40 mile radius (two in the city limits) four TV stations, and a relatively prosperous area for the region.
    The reason it happened in Kanawha County is because it is the state capitol and a media center, not poverty or isolation or fear of “carloads of black people heading up the hollow.”
    In fact, in 1974, there were already plenty of black people living in the hollows. They’d been there since the 20s, mining coal, alongside the Italians, Poles, Greek and Arabs. I played a lot of high school basketball and football against black kids from places like Pineville, Northfork, Mullens, Monongah, and Man. Don’t talk to me about rural West Virginia until you’ve taken the time to find to those towns. West Virginia ain’t what you see driving through on I-64 on your way to Cinncinnati. (there’s a lot fewer blacks now in W Va., and the state is a lot more racist than it was in 1974, but that’s a different story)
    Fact is what went on in Charleston in 1974 isn’t any different than the bible thumping going on in places like Austin right now. As for racism, at precisely the same time as the Kanawha county textbook riots, there were violent busing protests going on in the liberal educated redoubt of Boston.
    And General, I never bought beer from a guy in a trailer, but we did have a few bars out the creek that weren’t too particular about ID as long as you were tall enough to get your quarter on the bar.

  20. 20
    Stefan says:

    As for racism, at precisely the same time as the Kanawha county textbook riots, there were violent busing protests going on in the liberal educated redoubt of Boston.

    There were busing protests going on, but they weren’t in the liberal educated redoubts of Boston — those redoubts are in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill and across the river from Boston in Cambridge. The violent busing protests were in South Boston, which is poor and working class and has never been liberal or educated.

  21. 21
    Bobzim says:

    I played a lot of high school basketball and football against black kids from places like Pineville, Northfork, Mullens, Monongah, and Man.

    And not one of those towns are in Kanawha County, so…

    Don’t talk to me about rural West Virginia until you’ve taken the time to find to those towns.

  22. 22
    jake the snake says:

    @Mumphrey:

    This.

  23. 23
    FLRealist says:

    I grew up in Charleston and was in the 7th grade when this took place. What I remember about the whole thing was being scared. We probably had one bomb scare a week where the entire school had to be evacuated. The hatred spewed by the so-called Christian adults shocked me.

    Alice Moore – I’ll never forget her. She was so hateful and the situation affected me for several years because the whole school year was completely screwed up. There wasn’t much consideration shown for the welfare of the children they were supposedly protecting.

    I was raised in a house that was full of books. My parents never banned a single one, although I do remember my mom telling me once that a romance novel I had was probably too old for me. She told me if there was anything that needed explaining to come and talk to her. Of course, I knew everything then and never did. *grin*

    The textbook issue is probably why I feel so strongly about censorship now. There have been several times when parents have tried to have books banned in our local libraries and I’ve made sure to be there to speak out against it.

  24. 24
    DougJ says:

    @FLRealist:

    Thanks for this comment. It is always great to hear from people with first-hand experience of the topic.

  25. 25
    Bobzim says:

    @DougJ: But, if you talk to Trey Kay, you’ll find that the kids from Charleston never experienced the censorship – they used the books all along.

    We all felt the fear, but only the kids from the Upper Kanawha Valley got their education fucked.

    Please don’t perpetuate The Narrative at the expense of the truth, DougJ.

  26. 26
    FLRealist says:

    @Bobzim:

    The books were NOT used in my school at the time. We lived on the West Side in Charleston. I just checked with my father to make sure.

  27. 27
    WereBear says:

    Thanks for link, will investigate. If I feel up to it… see below:

    At that time, I was in Central Florida, surrounded by Born Agains. It was a small town, but it had a Evangelical radio station.

    What I remember is how “the thought of thoughts” drove them crazy. Ideas, intellect, the mere act of thinking; it would trigger some kind of defensive frenzy.

    I’ll have to feel up to spittle flecked shrieking flashbacks…

  28. 28
    littlesky says:

    @Bobzim:

    I was a junior at GW in 1974 and we didn’t use the books. They collected them, we walked out of school, and then we studied grammar for the rest of the nine weeks or possibly the semester.

    Charleston Gazette September 13, 1974

  29. 29
    Marmot says:

    One thing I’m always struck by when reading news from this era is the amount of right-wing terrorism that went on. I don’t know why the Joe Kleins of the world remember the Weathermen so well when they’ve forgotten all about Bombingham.

    I wonder about this all the time. It often seems to me that a lot of liberals are embarrassed by their own stridency through the ’70s, as if they spent the decade running ’round drunk with a lampshade on their collective heads. When I see the occasional snippet of a sitcom or public interest program from that decade — I’m thinking of a particular program about the portrayal of violence on television, starring Ed Asner — it seems rather preachy and silly. Are they running from that? Is there any truth to my read of the situation?

    All I remember from that era is ugly wallpaper. Can some of y’all who lived through the ’70s as adults help me understand?

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