The Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee is famous for hosting the legendary Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. (Quick summary: Substitute teacher John Scopes was charged with teaching evolution, which was illegal in that state at the time. He was found guilty and fined $100.)
The two prominent lawyers in the trial were William Jennings Bryan, arguing against evolution for the state, and Clarence Darrow representing Scopes. (If you haven’t seen Inherit the Wind yet, stop reading this post and go do that.)
Outside the courthouse today stands this statue of Bryan, which went up in 2005:
As you might imagine, they still love Bryan in that area. It’s one of those places where acceptance of evolution is still seen as heretical in many circles.
But a couple of years ago, there began a push for the courthouse to include a similar statue of Clarence Darrow:
“Back in 2005, we knew that if the topic ever arose, we’d have to consider adding a Darrow monument as well or else risk be shown in a negative or biased light,” Rhea County Historical Society President Tom Davis said. “We don’t want to stir up controversy or continue the battle from the 1920’s, but rather just recognize it as a major part of our history. I think it will be a unique feature for Dayton and a good idea to have both Jennings and Bryan represented.”
“I would really like to create a sculpture of Clarence Darrow for Dayton’s courthouse,” [sculptor Zenos] Frudakis said. “It would be fun and his sculptural presence would bring a nice balance to the Dayton, Tenn., experience for visitors wanting to know more about the famous Scopes Trial.”
Frudakis ended up making the privately-funded statue, with the American Humanist Association managing all the money involved. (You can see mockups of the statue here.)
The cost of the statue was upwards of $200,000 (which would be entirely crowd-funded) and that included: research, creation of a model statue, materials, the base, shipping, installation, and much more. The price, I was told, is typical of a statue of this size.
So that’s where we’re at today. The statue is done, and it’s scheduled for installation by mid-July, right when the Scopes Trial Play and Festival is taking place.
But some activists are still not happy with the decision to allow the Darrow statue to go up.
Long time activist, June Griffin tells us she’s one of many taking a stand against the proposed statue of Clarence Darrow. She says the lawyer ideas about evolution go against everything she and others who live in the tight-knit community believe.
“All history proves the existence of God and Evolution is a joke for any thinking person,” said Griffin. “This is a very serious matter, the courthouse is a sacred place, you don’t turn it into a theater.”
Many residents are upset because there was never an official vote.
“Well I know, God is real and he’s not pleased with this,” said Griffin. “You can come in here with all kinds of French opinions of this, that and the other but this is not France and we don’t run on opinions and an atheist is not on an equal footing with the Christian.”
“The opposition is centered on the effect of Darrow’s ideas [and our] purpose is not promoting his ideas or anything of that nature… it’s just a recognition of the man and his historical significance,” said Green.
June Griffin says she and others will continue to stand up for their beliefs.
“You (commissioners) have betrayed the people of this county, you have betrayed them,” said Griffin. “There are people that live on the outskirts and they don’t make appointments with Channel 3, they just do things and I’ve heard talk of ‘well there’s always spray paint.’“
There’s your Christian reaction to the statue of Darrow: Evolution is a joke, this ain’t France, and we’re gonna vandalize that piece of art.
(But it’s “persecution” when atheists criticize Christian beliefs, right?)
At least the County Commission seems to be doing everything right. They’re treating the Darrow statue the same way they did the Bryan one, and they’re not getting in the way of its installation. They believe having the two figures on the courthouse lawn is a way of honoring their history. It’s not “taking sides” on a religious matter — or even promoting science (as if that’s such a bad thing).
Incidentally, the Commission didn’t have an “official vote” for the Bryan statue, either. Not that people like Griffin care about facts.
(Top image via brent_nashville on Flickr. Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)