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Not Just Another Monkey Tale...



Around and around we go...

It is a beautiful day in Tennessee as Stephanie and I drive and listen to rock 'n' roll. We pass farmhouses, wide-open fields, antique stores, and churches everywhere! We are on our way to Dayton investigate a very famous court trial called the Scopes Trial of 1925.

We try to imagine what Dayton must have been like 75 years ago. In 1925 Jazz music was bopping all around. Everything new was cool, and everything old was just old. But in the roaring 20's, Christian Fundamentalists were working hard to keep things from getting too wild. They believed that everything in the Bible should be followed exactly as it was written, with no fudging.

Many states in the South had passed a special law that made it illegal for teachers to teach Darwinism. Darwinism is a scientific belief that humans slowly evolved from apes over many millions of years. These Christian Fundamentalists believed in Creationism, which says that humans did not evolve from anything. Humans were simply created by God in the Garden of Eden, just like it says in the Bible. If a teacher ever told students that Darwin was right, then he could have been arrested and fined.

Carnival or trial?
Many people felt that this law was unfair, because it insisted on everyone learning a set of beliefs based on Christianity. This was not good for people who were not Christian. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decided that they would help anyone that wanted to fight this law.

Jen contemplates 'The Great Commoner' William Jennings Bryan
George Rappelyea thought a big court trial would be a good way to get publicity for his town of Dayton, Ohio. He wanted people to notice Dayton because his mining company was not doing very well. He got a teacher named John T. Scopes to help out. Scopes was a football coach and part time teacher in biology. Rappelyea met with the town leaders to plan the whole thing out. They even chose which lawyers would be on offense and defense. They had Scopes teach Darwinism, and then had him arrested. Then the trial began.

Jen checks out 'The Great Defender'
On the offense (called prosecution) was William Jennings Bryan. He had run for president three times. He worked for the common man. At 70 years old, he was very religious and believed every single word of the Bible. On the defense was Clarence Darrow, a 70 year old lawyer. Darrow was known as the "champion of the underdog" because he also worked for the common man. He liked a lot of Bryan's political beliefs, except for when it came to the Bible. Darrow was an agnostic (that it is impossible to know the truth about God). He did not believe the Bible should be taken literally (word for word).

The original juror chairs are still in the functioning courthouse
The trial itself was like a circus. There were performing chimpanzees, lemonade stands, banners and lots of spectators. They even had the first ever live radio broadcast from a trial. Behind all the hoopla, there was a serious trial going on. Darrow said that the law violated the US Constitution. Even though he was on the defense, he actually wanted Scopes to be found guilty. This way, he could appeal the decision and take it to the Supreme Court.

Jen and Steph reenact the famous trial
In the end, Scopes was found guilty, but it never went to the Supreme Court the way Darrow had hoped. The case just got thrown out. One thing Darrow did do was to make William Jennings Bryan look pretty foolish with his rigid beliefs of the bible. The trial was about many more things than just teaching evolution in schools. Many people debated how the Bible should be believed. They also debated what Darwinism meant besides evolving from apes. Some people believed Darwinism was a way to justify doing bad thing to make more money. Even today, people debate these issues.


Please email me at: Jennifer1@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Neda - Building a better human - in the 1920's?!
Irene - Making a run for the border