New play recounts Dayton's strategy in landing the Scopes case

New play recounts Dayton's strategy in landing the Scopes case

May 6th, 2009 in News


What: Scopes Trial Festival

When: July 17-18

Where: Dayton, Tenn.

By Tom Davis,

DAYTON, Tenn. - A new look at the Scopes evolution trial - the story of how the trial came to happen in 1925 - will take the stage in Rhea County in July, bringing new life to what has become a summer tradition.

Tom Morgan, who has family ties to both the trial and the Scopes Trial Festival, said he and retired businessman Curtis Lipps, who has been interested in the trial for many years, will present a new telling of the story that made Rhea County famous.

Mr. Morgan noted that the trial re-enactment sponsored by Bryan College and the Dayton Chamber of Commerce was produced annually for 20 years.

"Their efforts helped many people understand what happened inside the courtroom and, to a lesser extent, what was going on in 1925 to make the trial possible," he said.

"But what Curtis has done is write a play that tells the story of how the leaders of Dayton worked to get the test of Tennessee's anti-evolution statute held here. At the same time, he has included some highlights from the trial itself."

Mr. Morgan helped organize the Scopes Festival 22 years ago and performed three songs about the trial before each presentation of the play.

He said the revived festival also will include live performances of songs from the era of the play or in that style.

"One of the important things about the Scopes Festival to me has been the effort to preserve old-time music that is part of the Appalachian heritage," Mr. Morgan said.

Among musicians scheduled are Dalton Roberts, Redbird Clingan, Roy Harper and Peanut Faircloth, Lynne Haas and Mr. Morgan.

The trial was the major media event of its day, but the back story is worth telling, Mr. Lipps said.

"Dayton was in a hard time economically, and the town fathers were looking for ways to bring business and industry to town," he said. "When the ACLU advertised for a teacher to test the anti-evolution law, they saw their chance and took it."

Mr. Lipps' script is a carefully researched document that sets out the chain of events from May, when Cumberland Coal and Iron Co. manager George Rappleyea and county school board chairman F.E. Robinson concocted the plan, until the trial ended in late July.

"The story I tell in the play is well documented, but I had to create the dialogue," Mr. Lipps said. "While the trial re-enactment was taken from the court transcript, I didn't have exact words to follow, just the outline of what happened. I think this is faithful to the spirit of what the Scopes Festival has tried to do all along - tell the truth about the Scopes trial."

The new Scopes Festival is being presented through the cooperation of Rhea County Executive Billy Ray Patton and the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society.

There will be three performances in the Rhea County Courthouse. Tickets are $5 at the door.

Musical performances on the courthouse lawn will be free.