REQUIRED READING: Protester Voices

For those who hope to understand Fundamentalist America in the twenty-first century, a good place and time to start would be Kanawha County, West Virginia, 1974.

The raucous 1974-1975 school year in this county surrounding Charleston saw a burst of public controversy over the teaching in its public schools.  Protesters vilified a set of textbooks adopted by the school district.  At its peak, the protest and school boycott included a sympathy strike by the area’s miners and even a spate of gunshot attacks and the bombing of a school-administration building.  The fight in Kanawha County, as argued by both protesters and historians, can correctly be seen as the birthplace, or at least the midwife, of an emerging populist conservative movement.

The controversy has attracted its share of recent attention from scholars such as Carol Mason and journalists such as Trey Kay.

Thanks to the energetic activist Karl Priest, we now also have an account of the controversy written from a prominent member of the movement itself.  Priest’s 2010 book Protester Voices offers a view from inside the textbook protest movement.

Priest’s story is unabashedly partisan.  The tone and style of his book are those of a bare-knuckled culture warrior rather than those of a disinterested academic.  Priest has achieved a reputation as one of today’s leading anti-evolution internet brawlers.  In addition to his anti-evolution work, Priest is also currently active in Exodus Mandate.  This organization promises “to encourage and assist Christian families to leave government schools for the Promised Land of Christian schools or home schooling.”  Those who hope to explore the worlds of conservative Christian activism in twenty-first century America will soon run into the work of Karl Priest nearly everywhere they turn.  Indeed, when ILYBYGTH first starting imagining how intelligent, educated people could embrace creationism (see, for instance, here, here, here, here, and here), we were accused of being merely a front for Priest.

In his 2010 book, Priest takes other writers to task for their anti-protester bias.  He dismisses Carol Mason, for example, as someone who “concentrate[s] on the exception to the rule” (37).  The protest movement, Priest insists, must not be understood as an irruption of racism or vigilante violence.  The protesters themselves cannot fairly be dismissed as “wild-eyed ignoramuses” (xiii).  Such accusations, Priest insists, demonstrate the bias of left-leaning scholars more than the lived reality of the protest itself.  The leaders of the movement, in Priest’s view, “suffered financial loss. . . . [and] endured snide remarks and mocking.”  They did so in order to defend their schools and community against the imposition of taxpayer-funded textbooks that included aggressive racism and sexual depravity.  Priest defends the rank and file of this movement, also slandered mercilessly by other writers, as “Norman Rockwell Americans” (63).

Priest agrees with other commentators that this textbook controversy provided the launching pad for a new kind of conservative activism.  Kanawha County attracted national leaders such as Mel Gabler and Max Rafferty.  The fledgling Heritage Foundation sent legal advisers.  The 1974 protest, Priest claims, heralded the new generation of populist conservatism that continues in today’s Tea Party movement.

For anyone hoping to understand Fundamentalist America, this book is an important resource.  Not only does Priest’s account offer a staunch defense of the fundamentalist side of one of the most significant controversies of the late twentieth century, he also includes a reflection on the meanings of fundamentalism itself.  Though he prefers the term “Bible-believing Christian,” Priest insists that “Being a fundamentalist, contrary to what liberals have propagandized, is nothing to be ashamed of just by the attachment of the term” (3).

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  1. If you read the books that caused the citizens to complain, then you appreciate that these were mainstream Americans disgusted at changing the public schools to debauchery mills. To mainstream America, that seemed like the civic chore to perform.

    Instead of correcting themselves, the reaction of the public school establishment was to use totalitarian methods to discredit the citizenry. That polarized the community and began one of the earliest of the Tea Party movements.

    Bravo Karl Priest for fairly presenting the stance of mainstream America.

  2. I was in West Virginia for part of the book protest in the mid-1970s and have read Mr. Priest’s book. It is a fair description of what happened there and, having been there myself, I can agree with what he wrote. The reviewer accuses Mr. Priest of being a “culture warrior.” What’s wrong with that? It sure beats the heck out of being a couch potato and the last time I checked, being concerned about the declining Christian culture around us was no crime–although if the present Marxist administration in Washington has its way, the day may come when it will be.

    Just for the record, I am not a Fundamentalist. I am a Reformed Presbyterian and so Mr. Priest and I probably have some theological differences. But for all that, he is still a brother in Christ and we do not have to agree on everything for me to support his efforts, which I do.

    The book he wrote needed to be written. The protesters’ side of this needed to be told and up until his book came out it really hadn’t been, so his work is important and I would uurge ev

  3. This blogger is a RARE real liberal–I explain what that means in the book.

    One point needs to be made regarding his review. When he referred to “gunshot attacks” the uniformed reader is likely to assume that the gun violence was from protesters. Besides some shots fired at empty buses and one occupied state police vehicle (which were never tied to anyone) the PROVEN gun violence was from a pro-book leader who seriously wounded an innocent bystander and another pro-booker who emptied his pistol at some union pickets, but only grazed one man. Those facts and many more can be found in the book and at

  4. Karl’s book and Karl’s views are worth reading even if you’ve already made up your mind about the on-going culture war. Just once I’d like to see a liberal show us where the U.S. Constitution gives them the authority to indoctrinate our children with views that are contrary to our religous beliefs. The 1st Amendment is violated continually by public schools, not only with its teaching of evolution but also its push for socialism and moral relativism. May God provide us with more men like Karl who dare to tell the truth!

    RC Murray

  5. Just once, I’d like for a liberal to show me where in the U.S. Constitution they’re authorized to indoctrinate the children of others with beliefs that are contrary to their religious beliefs. Regardless what the Supreme Court says, because evolution teaches a core belief system contrary to that of the Bible, to force its teaching on the children of devout Christians is a violation of the 1st Amendment. I thank God there are still men like Karl who’ll tell the truth and oppose the left and their attempt to take away our religious freedom.

    • @RC, I think the most relevant federal court decision on these issues comes from outside the evolution/creation cases. The decision(s) in Mozert v. Hawkins County showed a fascinating judicial back-and-forth. In the end, the federal district court decided that parents do not have the right to opt out of school curricula, even if parents claim that such curricula contain notions harmful to their children.

      • Ah, but do we really need black-robed humanists telling us what the Constitution says? Some of us can still read and understand what we’ve read. So while we can still read and think independent of Big Brother’s thought police, the best option for Christian parents is to get their Christian kids out of public schools.

      • In the public school curricula, abortion and homosex kill.

        Abortion kills the individual.

        Homosex kills the nation.

        Homosex has spread and continues to spread disease.

        A vote to keep our children in the public schools is a vote to kill Americans, to kill America, and to spread disease.

        Pro-life parents sustain Americans.

        Marriage sustains America and abates the spread of disease.

        A vote to take our children out of the public schools is a vote to sustain Americans, to sustain America, and to abate the spread of disease.

        Joseph Mastropaolo
        May 18, 2012

  6. Great job my friends, speaking Truths about America. We Cow-Tow to this mans Gov’t all to easily (as a nation), assuming all we know is all there is. We’ve been grossly lied to for all too long. Like I avidly repeat in several places in this cyber-dome: America – SAVE AMERICA! Why not? They’re not!


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