Clarence Darrow: The Creation of An American Myth

By Richard J. Jensen | Go to book overview

Educating the Masses: Darrow in Tennessee

Although Darrow talked of retirement after the Leopold and Loeb hearing, within a year he found himself involved in a sensational trial in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee. That dramatic trial grew out of the simple indictment of a teacher named John Thomas Scopes for unlawfully teaching "a certain theory or theories that denied the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, but did teach thereof, that man is descended from a lower order of animals." 1

The indictment brought before the nation a debate that had been simmering in the South for many years. For a variety of social and economic reasons, a movement had arisen against the teaching of evolution in public schools. In April 1925 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a survey that showed that "more restrictive laws had been passed in the preceding six months than at any time in the country's history." Statutes were passed that "banned the teaching of evolution, or required daily Bible reading in the schools, or forbade the employment of radical or pacifist teachers." 2

In 1920, after William Jennings Bryan had joined the fray, the movement gained energy. Bryan traveled throughout the country speaking in favor of laws that defined the content of education. People united behind Bryan's proclamation that "the hand that writes the pay check rules the school." By 1923, Oklahoma and Florida banned the teaching of evolution in schools. 3

As "a close observer of the American scene," Darrow was aware of these events. He

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