Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Glade Sun

July 5, 2007

YESTER YEARS: The Scopes Trial

There are many versions of this trial, but this story came from John Scopes himself. The Scopes "Monkey" Trial began July 10, 1925, or 81 years ago, and pitted Clarence Darrow vs. William Jennings Bryan, a creationist. John Scopes, a physics teacher, who had substituted as a biology teacher, volunteered to test the Tennessee Legislature when it passed its anti-evolution law in March 1925.

While doing graduate work at NE Louisiana University in 1959, one of my professors was an active member of the Little Theatre Group and was to play the role of Clarence Darrow. Dr. Christian, my professor, invited me to attend this production and I sat next to John Scopes.

He and I talked at length about the trial. What really provoked the trial was a bet made in a local drugstore during morning coffee. A group of citizens who disagreed with the law, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, chose the volunteer, John Scopes, to be the test subject. John was assured that he would not be sent to jail or have to pay a fine. There was no provision in the law for imprisonment. Newspapers, citizens and evolution supporters had agreed to pay his trial cost and fine if there was one. He told me that the Tennessee law required the jury to assess the fine, but the judge did so and it was never paid. Scopes was fined $100.

The trial provided William Jennings Bryan a platform to expound on creationism and his belief there was no such thing as evolution. Clarence Darrow put Bryan on the stand and tried to make a mockery of Bryan's lack of knowledge about science. It worked and didn't work. Most writers have stated it was a draw simply because Mississippi and Arkansas enacted similar laws at the end of the decade. Creationists thought Bryan won, evolutionist (scientists) thought Darrow won. Nevertheless, Tennessee repealed the law in 1967, but it had been widely ignored for years.

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