Evolution news: A statue of Clarence Darrow is unveiled at the “Scopes” courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee

Reader Rick called my attention to a  New York Times piece about a new statue in Dayton, Tennessee, which, you’ll recall, is where the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” took place in 1925. John Scopes was convicted of teaching human evolution to high-school students, thus violating Tennessee’s “Butler Act” prohibiting the teaching of non-Biblical accounts of human origins. (Teaching evolution of non-humans was not illegal, underscoring the perennial human exceptionalism in evolution.)

It was a titanic trial, pitting William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution versus Clarence Darrow as the lead defense attorney. Scientists weren’t allowed to testify, yet Bryan himself was allowed to take the stand and testify on his views about the Bible. Darrow ripped him apart, and it was duly reported by H. L. Mencken in a series of wonderfully acerbic pieces for the Baltimore Evening Sun (you can see Mencken’s full coverage here).

Scopes was convicted, of course, for he’d clearly violated the law. The defense appealed, and the guilty verdict was overturned on a technicality: the judge had levied the punitive $100 fine, but state law prohibited judges from giving fines over $50—that was the jury’s bailiwick.

At any rate, on to the statue—click on the link below to see the story. If you’re ever near Dayton, go see the courthouse, which is just as it was 92 years ago, and still the venue for trials. It’s a lovely and sleepy town, and there’s an exhibit at the trial. Sadly, the town also harbors Bryan College, a fundamentalist institution where creationism remains the official biology tale.

As for the statue of Darrow, well, it’s about damn time! After all, there’s already a statue of William Jennings Bryan on the Rhea County Courthouse grounds, and he came off the worse, though he won. Here’s the Bryan statue, erected in 2005:

But our old friends the Freedom from Religion Foundation found $150,000 to put up a swell statue of Darrow, and here it is with its creator (read more about its creation at The Humanist). Darrow has long been a hero of mine: an atheist, eloquent and hard-working lawyer, and a fighter for truth and justice.

(From NYT): The sculptor Zenos Frudakis with his new statue of Clarence Darrow outside the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn., in a photo provided by the Frudakis family. Credit via Associated Press

Of course Dayton being Dayton, the Darrow statue aroused controversy. As the NYT reports:

Brad Putt, the owner of a downtown music store, is among those who say that the statue of Darrow — sculpted by a Pennsylvania artist, Zenos Frudakis, and designed to stand at about the same height as the Bryan statue — simply serves to balance the historical record.

“People around here know that if you have a court case, you have to have two sides,” said Mr. Putt, who fell back on Eastern philosophy and the “Transformers” movies to bolster his case: “You can’t have Optimus Prime unless you have Megatron. You’ve got to have a yin to the yang.”

The opposition to the Darrow statue, which was installed Thursday morning, has been headed by June Griffin, 77, a repeat long-shot candidate for political office who was once lampooned by “The Daily Show” for her creationist beliefs. She was instrumental in arranging a July 1 anti-Darrow rally at the courthouse that included State Senator Mae Beavers, a Republican candidate for governor, and Larry Tomczak, a public policy adviser to the conservative Liberty Counsel. He described the gathering as a protest against the “ongoing attempt by secularists in America to blur or remove symbols reminding us of our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

The FFRF had a special trip to Dayton for the installation, and I would have loved to be there (I was supposed to be on an FFRF video show on evolution that was to air this week, but Skype didn’t work, so look for me in a few months). But Annie Laurie was there in all her glorious amiability:

Among those at the official dedication of the statue Friday morning were Mr. Frudakis, the artist, and Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group. Ms. Gaylor said in an interview on Wednesday that she would come to town holding no grudges.

“It’s the missing link,” she deadpanned, “in the courthouse display.”

39 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    What a tremendous effort went into this project. Slowly reason is taking back the land(we hope).

  2. ploubere
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Just a couple hours from me but I wasn’t in town to attend, unfortunately. A couple friends did go, including Gayle Jordan, executive director of Recovering from Religion. There were about 75 people in attendance, and protesters didn’t show up. There was however a banner hanging on the courthouse that said “Read your Bible”.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Elliot in front of the sign:

      • rickflick
        Posted July 16, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Christians who insist you read the bible obviously haven’t read it themselves.

  3. Randy schenck
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I remember seeing the email from FFRF the other day on this. A very nice statue. The movie about it all was pretty good as well. If you ever pass through Lincoln, Nebraska you will see many things with Bryan’s name all over it. The guy ran for president three times, fortunately never winning.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I had a client a while back who got busted in the boondocks of central Tennessee while driving a tractor-trailer full of pot along the interstate. I flew there to represent him (after hiring local co-counsel so as not to get home-towned).

    The courthouse was a little century-old brick building smack dab in the middle of the town square. Inside, the courtroom seats for the gallery were arrayed like a theater, complete with a balcony. It had clearly been the county’s main locus of entertainment in the days before television and radio.

    Walking in the first time, my mind went immediately to the Scopes trial and Inherit the Wind.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      So maybe you got paid in Pot? Or was this a case of, He didn’t have a pot to piss in.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Haven’t you heard? Crime don’t pay.

        (Clients of mine get a real kick outta that line.)

        • Randy schenck
          Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

          I suspect both Trump and Putin would not agree with you on that. Have to think that Trump must be a lawyer’s dream…

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            Word in the legal community is that Trump is a lawyer’s nightmare — won’t pay, and won’t follow legal advice. That’s why several topflight DC firms took a pass on representing him.

            The legal team he has now isn’t really functioning as lawyers, but as a PR squad — political mouthpieces appearing on the news programs to spin the facts and deny all wrongdoing. Every time they do, they limit Trump’s legal options.

            • Randy schenck
              Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              There must also be a fleet of Tax lawyers just to work on the golf courses. The game is always to value high for promotion or sale and then argue the price down for taxes. I understand there is a pretty high powered group suing his Campaign Committee now and this is for stuff unrelated to the Russia business.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 16, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      So, how did you handle the case and how did it turn out?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 16, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Filed a motion to suppress the search on Fourth Amendment grounds. While it was pending, pled him out to 364 days in county jail (vastly below the prison sentence he was facing), before the feds got interested in the case (in which event he could’ve been facing a 10-year min-man).

        • rickflick
          Posted July 16, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

          Lucky for him he had you on his side. Congratulations.

        • Mark R.
          Posted July 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          The War on Drugs is despicable and an unbelievable waste of law enforcement and judicial time. Sessions just wants to ramp it up. WTF?

  5. Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I managed to make it there late that afternoon (my birthday!) for a selfie:

    • Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        Good luck on your House run…damn gerrymandering.

        • Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

          I was pleased to get 2491 votes on a $10 budget (and no, I didn’t keep the Democratic candidate from winning–she was a sacrificial lamb and lost by more than 2:1 to the incumbent GOP loyalist). Yeah, it was half as many votes as Rick “Make America White Again” Tyler, but he spent tens of thousands.

          • Mark R.
            Posted July 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

            I give plenty of money, but not much of my time. It’s admirable of you to participate, whether or not you win or lose.

            $10 budget. LOL!

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

              I had donors lined up. I got myself on the ballot as an independent because I thought there was a small chance that the conservative voters here might have a backlash against the incumbent for his over-the-top support of Trump. Alas, that never happened, so I had my potential donors hold onto their money.

              It looks like the local Democrats are preparing to throw up another sacrificial candidate in 2018, but if there’s no local backlash by then, I may stay out of it.

          • Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            How many people were in the relevant unit (riding, district, whatever they call it)?

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              There are approximately 720,000 people per U.S. Congressional District. In my district (Tennessee’s 3rd), 265,762 people voted, of whom two-thirds (176,448) voted for the Republican incumbent.

  6. jwthomas
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    BTW, in its story the NYTimes referred to Darrow as an “agnostic.” There’s nothing the Times can’t water down in its relentless pursuit of middlebrow mediocrity.

  7. Mark R.
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I really dislike this description: …Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group. Atheist group? Thanks for the negative connotation. Why didn’t they say a group that fights for the separation of church and state? You don’t have to be an atheist to support what FFRF stands for.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Quite correct.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    William Jennings Bryan died just five days after the Scopes trial verdict — a broken man following his cross-examination by Darrow, if reports are to be believed.

    If I’m recalling my Attorney for the Damned correctly, Darrow said that he had voted for Bryan himself two of the three times “the Great Commoner” ran for US president.

    Darrow’s essay “Why I Am an Agnostic” is well worth a read.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      There’s much to admire politically in Bryan. He wanted to dissolve trusts, regulate the railroads more tightly, and supported Progressive Movement. His opposition the gold standard in favor of populism is well-known. Plus, like Ronald Reagan (for whom I never voted), he was a genuinely great speech-maker and orator.

      Curious if Bryan college acknowledges any of this.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, like his “Cross of Gold” speech — which, as rhetorical drama and political theater, ranks right up there with Douglas MacArthur’s “old soldiers never die” address to Congress (and, like MacArthur’s address, ranks right up there as an act of crazed hubris, too).

    • Historian
      Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Most people today probably remember Bryan for his role in the Scopes trial. They don’t remember that he was the Democratic nominee for president three times and Woodrow Wilson’s first Secretary of State. The title “Great Commoner” is accurate because he actually was an early progressive and did champion causes that supported the “common man” and opposed those that aided the business interests. Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century being an intensely religious Protestant did not mean that the person was a conservative, at least in economic matters. Bryan was also an anti-imperialist. He was much more than a religious buffoon and deserves respect as a principled progressive.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 16, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        Yes, back when being a Christian actually meant following the example of Jesus’s teachings. Nowadays, republican dogma is so far from these teachings, it’s hard to imagine why they think they’re “good Christians”.

        Though I will say it reinforces my atheism. Not that I need opposition to hold my views. I guess it’s a form of moral schadenfreude against the clueless Evangelicals.

  9. Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to see Darrow is finally getting his due. Fellow atheist H. L. Mencken’s account of the trial is a classic. He published several articles by Darrow in his American Mercury, most notably about eugenics. Mencken published both pro and con articles about it, and Darrow was decidedly on the “con” side. See, for example, “The Edwardses and the Jukeses” in the October 1925 issue and “The Eugenics Cult” in the June 1926 issue. They’re both available online at unz.org.

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    The one major case that Darrow lost was the Leopold and Loeb trial, but even there he was very successful in getting the judge to put aside the death penalty in one of his greatest speeches.

    There was a good one-man play about Darrow which I think was once on TV with Henry Fonda.

  11. Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  12. Posted July 16, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I just love that the sculptor’s name is Zenos Frudakis. That right there is what makes America great.

  13. Blue
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    My father was only 5½ years of age when this
    trial occurred in y1925. Country boy that he
    only ever was, including after surviving with
    the help of Chinese people who rescued him and
    his radio when his plane was forced in the
    Himalayan range to crash – land in y1942,
    Mr Maas credited his knowledge from what news
    releases at the time of this trial were
    available within his wee kiddohood – purview
    with … … his nearly lifelong atheism.

    When he finally came out to me at his age of 70
    then, he stated simply, “I have walked the
    World over. There are good people who get up
    every morning everywhere and do The Right Thing
    … … who have never heard one word about gods of
    any kind.”

    Blue

    • Blue
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I am quite, quite fond of Ms Annie Laurie’s
      Gloria – voice and presenting delivery. I have
      marveled many a time at just how controlled
      Ms Gaylor is — and, thus, able to keep her
      tone, as always.always. does Ms Steinem, when
      then either one of them everywhere that the
      two of them may speak, produces profound and,
      sometimes, punningly deadpanned statements.

      Blue

  14. Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that’s impressive. I wonder how many will learn the story.


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