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The Bard College Historical Studies Program Presents “The Great Textbook War”

Event Focuses on Audio Documentary about the 1974 West Virginia Textbook Controversy

Eleanor Davis
Textbook protester, 1974, Charleston, West Virginia.  Image Credit: Photo courtesy of the Charleston Gazette.

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. —The Bard College Historical Studies Program presents a listening session of the radio documentary “The Great Textbook War” on Friday, January 29, at 6:30 p.m. in the Bard College Bertelsmann Campus Center Multipurpose Room. This event is free and open to the general public. For more information, please call 845-758-7512.

Produced and hosted by award-winning journalist Trey Kay, “The Great Textbook War” recounts the controversy that erupted over newly adopted school textbooks in Kanawha County, West Virginia in 1974. The documentary tells the history of that local confrontation and the effect it had on American politics. At 6:30 p.m. the audience will be invited to view a historical traveling exhibit, Books and Beliefs: The Kanawha County Textbook War, which is based on historical material unearthed in the research for the radio documentary. The exhibit consists of four large panels of photos and newspaper articles accompanied by a repeating 22-minute sound-and-video show. From 7 to 8 p.m. the radio documentary “The Great Textbook War” will be presented. The listening session will be followed by a panel discussion with Bard College professor Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, producer Trey Kay and exhibit creator Stan Bumgardner.

The Great Textbook War

More than 40 interviews and dozens of pieces of archival sound of school board meetings, public debates, and news reports bring the story of the 1974 Kanawha County textbook wars to life. Textbook supporters thought they would introduce students to new ideas about multiculturalism, whereas opponents felt the books undermined traditional American values. School board member Alice Moore, who led the opposition to the books, describes what she found objectionable, and more broadly, how she felt traditional family values were under attack. English teacher Mildred Holt, who had grown up in Kanawha’s black community, was excited to teach the works of African American writers, but when the Klu Klux Klan began to protest the books she felt sure the protest was racially based. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, buses were riddled with bullets, journalists were beaten and nearby coal mines were shut down by protesting miners. The newly-formed Heritage Foundation found a cause to rally an emerging Christian conservative movement. The documentary describes the charged political environment of 1974, and shows how messy and destructive cultural confrontations can be. Producer Trey Kay was a 7th grader during the textbook protests, and tells the story as both chronicler and witness. Combined with exclusive interviews, the documentary guides the listener through the tumultuous protests that tore a community apart while setting a new course for conservative religious politics.


Panel Discussion Participants

Trey Kay (host, producer, and reporter) has produced segments for This American Life, Marketplace, Weekend America, Day to Day, Morning Edition and Studio 360. In 2005, he shared in a Peabody Award for Studio 360’s “American Icons: Moby Dick.” Kay was an associate producer for “News Wars: Secrets, Sources and Spin,” a two-hour report for PBS Frontline. He is a native of Charleston, West Virginia, where he was a junior high school student in 1974, and currently resides with his family in Red Hook, New York.

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Levy Institute Research Professor at Bard College, was the Charles Warren Professor of the History of American Education at Harvard University before joining the Bard faculty. A historian of education, Lagemann is a former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former president of the Spencer Foundation. Lagemann is the author or editor of nine books as well as numerous articles, reviews, reports, and book chapters. She has been president of the National Academy of Education and of the History of Education Society. She is a former trustee of the Russell Sage, Greenwall, and Markle Foundations and a former vice chair of the board of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral and Social Sciences in Stanford, California. She is currently co-chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Teacher Preparation and president of the board of Concord Academy, Concord, Massachusetts.

Traveling exhibit designer Stan Bumgardner has been a professional historian for 20 years. Since 2005, he has served as creative director for the West Virginia State Museum renovation, overseeing all content, artifact selection, and audiovisual production.

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This event was last updated on 01-19-2010