‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ Attorney Clarence Darrow Continues To Face Opposition In Dayton, Tenn.

One Tennessee woman has all but thrown down a gauntlet and demanded a duel in opposition to a proposed statue of Clarence Darrow, the attorney who defended teacher John T. Scopes when he taught evolution in a Dayton public school.

Philadelphia sculptor Zenos Frudakis is creating the statue, which is scheduled to be dedicated in July at the Rhea County Courthouse – the site of the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial.”

Darrow will once again square off against William Jennings Bryan, the creationist prosecutor who argued Scopes had illegally taught evolution at a Dayton high school in 1925. Bryan’s statue has stood alone outside the courthouse for more than a decade.

Americans United activist Bill Dusenberry of Oklahoma began advocating for Darrow to join Bryan following Dusenberry’s 2009 visit to Dayton. With fundraising assistance from the American Humanist Association, Darrow’s statue soon will become reality – something not everyone in Rhea County is looking forward to, apparently.

June Griffin – described by the Chattanooga Times Free Press as a “boisterous Rhea County right-winger” – objects to Darrow’s return to Dayton.

“I oppose it because it doesn’t belong there. That is sacred territory, where people from all over the world came to see these idiots that didn’t believe that God created the world and man,” Griffin recently told the paper. “They came from Oklahoma, Texas, in wagons. They traveled to see such a strange creature that would not believe the Bible.”

Griffin wants to confront anyone who thinks the Darrow statue is a good idea: “No lawyers, only personal confrontation. Engage them in the debate right there.”

If that doesn’t work, she’s apparently willing to consider an armed clash. Griffin suggested that the statue’s defenders form a militia and meet her forces (whoever they might be) on a nearby mountain: “If worst comes to worst, I will challenge them to meet us in their uniforms at King’s Mountain, just like John Sevier did, and we'll settle it over there.” (Sevier was a Tennessee founder who led a militia in a Revolutionary War battle.)

Sculptor Zenos Frudakis is creating a statue of "Scopes Monkey Trial" attorney Clarence Darrow. (photo by Rosalie Frudakis)

Rhea County Commissioner Bill Hollin has also voiced his displeasure about the pending statue, citing his personal religious beliefs. Hollin said he “sees no reason to celebrate the man who lost the trial and whose opponent contributed so much to Dayton,” according to the Times Free Press. However, Hollin has said he plans no official action to oppose the statue – no mention of militias or mountaintop skirmishes.

At least one county official sees the value of bringing Darrow back to Dayton: Ralph Green, president of the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society, said having Darrow join Bryan will promote a more complete, balanced representation of the trial.

“The Scopes Trial would not have been what it was without the two of them,” Green told the Times Free Press.

Bryan was initially the victor in the trial, and Scopes was convicted – although that was later overturned on a technicality. But most historians agree that Bryan lost in the court of public opinion, where his strident fundamentalist views appeared to be simplistic and out of date.

Post-Scopes, the national tide began to slowly turn in favor of teaching evolution – or at least in not preventing it from being taught. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled state laws like those in Tennessee and Arkansas could not forbid the teaching of evolution (Epperson v. Arkansas). In 1987, the high court invalidated a Louisiana law that mandated “balanced treatment” between evolution and creationism in public school science classes. And in 2005, in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover that was filed by AU and its allies, a federal judge struck down teaching creationism’s cousin, intelligent design, in public schools.

That hasn’t stopped some states from trying to work creationism back into science classes, however. A handful of legislatures this year have considered anti-science bills that would encourage educators to teach the “controversies” or “strengths and weaknesses” of science – code words co-opted by those who want creationist concepts taught alongside evolution. One bill in particular – Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 393 – still is being considered by the state House. If you live in Oklahoma, please urge your legislators to vote down SB 393.

For now, we’re pleased to hear that Darrow is coming back to Dayton. His presence there will help to tell the whole story of an epic clash between evolution and creationism that still resonates today.