2017 July 13

Dayton, TN, Erects Statue of Clarence Darrow, Attorney in Scopes Case


The city of Dayton, Tennessee, on this day erected a statue of Clarence Darrow, the famed American attorney who in 1925 represented John T. Scopes, on trial in Dayton for violating a new state law that outlawed the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The “Scopes Monkey Trial” is one of the most famous court cases in American history.

The statue stands in front of the Rhea County court house, across from a statue of Darrow’s trial opponent, William Jennings Bryan, which was placed there in 2005. The statue of Darrow was sculpted by Pennsylvania artist Zenos Frudakis. The $150,000 cost of the statue was paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Scopes case is one of the most famous controversies in American history. The attempt to ban the teaching of evolution by the state of Tennessee raised fundamental issues of academic freedom and the freedom to teach. The case has really never ended, as conservative religious forces have tried other ways of introducing anti-evolution views in school curricula. See, for example, the “intelligent design”  effort.

The most important and famous moment in the trial involved Darrow’s brutal cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan, former candidate for president, who represented the prosecution. In the cross-examination, Darrow got Bryan to concede that in effect he “interpreted” the book of Genesis, violating his fundamentalist belief that Genesis was the literal word of God.

Some local residents opposed the Darrow statue. Ruth Ann Wilson argued that the statue might “unleash a local plague or a curse.”

Learn more about Darrow’s role in the famous Leopold and Loeb trial.

Learn more about the Scopes case: Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997)

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