On July 14, 2017, a sculpture of Clarence Darrow will be dedicated on the lawn of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee. It will join a sculpture of William Jennings Bryan, the opposing counsel in the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. Their placement in front of the courthouse is particularly fitting since their most direct confrontation – Darrow’s examination of Bryan – actually took place on the lawn. On July 20, 1925, the heat was so intense that the judge moved the trial outdoors.
Sixty-five-year-old Bryan died in his sleep five days after the Scopes trial ended. In 2005, the Board of Trustees of Bryan College, a Christian liberal arts college established in 1930, donated a bronze sculpture of Bryan to stand on the lawn of the Rhea County Courthouse. For photos, see this TripAdvisor page.
Zenos Frudakis (who has been commissioned to create more than a hundred portrait sculptures plus many monumental works) felt that to balance the historical narrative, a statue of Darrow should also stand in front of the Rhea County Courthouse. With the help of several non-profit organizations, he raised $150,000 from individuals across the United States to fund Darrow in bronze. Frudakis released the following statement:
In the summer of 1925 the entire country was captivated by a trial in a small town in Tennessee. Teacher John T. Scopes stood accused of violating a new state law which prohibited teaching the theory of evolution in public schools. Two titans of their time, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, squared off in what came to be known as “The Trial of The Century”. A statue in tribute to William J. Bryan has stood in front of the Courthouse where the trial took place since 2005. I am proud to announce that my bronze portrait sculpture of Clarence Darrow, the first ever created of this iconic man, will finally join his opponent on the front lawn of Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton Tennessee on July 14, 2017 at 10:00 am.
That I have personal admiration for Clarence Darrow as a progressive voice of reason is not the sole motivation for this artistic project. As a student of history, I believe it is important that there be an accurate historical representation of the two adversaries at the center of the trial.
One would think that completing an accurate historical representation would be welcomed by all. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Since the statue dedication was announced, some factions have expressed passionate opposition to a Darrow statue joining Bryan at the courthouse. Protests are planned, and some have even threatened an armed militia retaliation. The press has fanned the flames of controversy to the point that I believe this opposition cannot be dismissed or ignored. It is imperative that the side of science be heard.
If you believe that a portrait sculpture of Clarence Darrow has a rightful place in front of the Scopes trial courthouse, then I would greatly appreciate your expression of support. A brief quote of your endorsement would be most welcome.
To express your support for the sculpture of Darrow, visit the Contact page on the artist’s website. Frudakis adds: “By submitting a positive endorsement you understand that it may be published, and can appear on my website, social media, in the press, and possibly in the dedication program handed out at the statue unveiling. Quotes that are overtly anti-religion or demean opponents of the statue will not be helpful at this time.”
As a historian and art historian, I’m thrilled that the Darrow and Bryan sculptures will stand as a reminder that the issues raised in the Scopes trial – religion vs. science, faith vs. reason – are still worth debating.
- This University of Minnesota site has a summary of the Scopes trial and testimony, plus photos of all the participants. Darrow’s examination of Bryan is here.
- On the Darrow statue, see the Times Free Press (4/17/17) and the Wall Street Journal (5/9/17).
- H.L. Mencken (the Hornbeck character in Inherit the Wind, drama or movie) wrote a scathing series of articles from Dayton on the Scopes trial. This section is in the last article (September 14, 1925):
What the [New York] World’s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.
True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge. Did Darrow, in the course of his dreadful bombardment of Bryan, drop a few shells, incidentally, into measurably cleaner camps? Then let the garrisons of those camps look to their defenses. They are free to shoot back. But they can’t disarm their enemy.
The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us.
I do not know how many Americans entertain the ideas defended so ineptly by poor Bryan, but probably the number is very large. They are preached once a week in at least a hundred thousand rural churches, and they are heard too in the meaner quarters of the great cities. Nevertheless, though they are thus held to be sound by millions, these ideas remain mere rubbish. Not only are they not supported by the known facts; they are in direct contravention of the known facts. No man whose information is sound and whose mind functions normally can conceivably credit them. They are the products of ignorance and stupidity, either or both.
What should be a civilized man’s attitude toward such superstitions? It seems to me that the only attitude possible to him is one of contempt. If he admits that they have any intellectual dignity whatever, he admits that he himself has none. If he pretends to a respect for those who believe in them, he pretends falsely, and sinks almost to their level. When he is challenged he must answer honestly, regardless of tender feelings. That is what Darrow did at Dayton, and the issue plainly justified the act. Bryan went there in a hero’s shining armor, bent deliberately upon a gross crime against sense. He came out a wrecked and preposterous charlatan, his tail between his legs. Few Americans have ever done so much for their country in a whole lifetime as Darrow did in two hours.
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