Statue for lawyer in famous Dayton, Tenn. Scopes Trial unveiled [photos]

Statue for lawyer in famous Dayton, Tenn. Scopes Trial unveiled [photos]

July 15th, 2017 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

The Clarence Darrow Commemorative Statue is unveiled Friday, July 14, 2017, at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn. The 10-foot bronze figure of Darrow was sculpted by Zenos Frudakis.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Gallery: Darrow statue dedication draws crowd, no protesters

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DAYTON, Tenn. — Hand fans flapped in the July heat as people — some dressed in suspenders, boater hats and bright dresses — gathered Friday on the front lawn of the Rhea County Courthouse.

A 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Scopes Trial lawyer Clarence Darrow stood before them, draped in a black veil. Draped behind it on the courthouse wall a vinyl banner exhorted the crowd to "Read Your Bible."

That was one of the few signs that the divide over creationism and evolution lives on in Dayton.

Music from the 1920s set the stage Friday morning for the dedication and unveiling of the Darrow statue, which stands opposite a bronze of his 1925 rival, William Jennings Bryan, put up in 2005.

"We are here, of course, to celebrate the unveiling of the 'missing link' at the Rhea County Courthouse," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said in her opening remarks. She thanked local officials and citizens, the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society and supporters in Tennessee and across the nation for helping take the statue from an idea to a historic monument.

Gaylor called Darrow a "great civil libertarian" and the statue a "gift to Rhea County, to history and to posterity," and said it would balance the history of the trial at the courthouse where Darrow and Bryan did battle.

"While we bequeath it to Rhea County, it is actually a gift to the nation, to Americans from all across the country who every year make a pilgrimage to witness this historic spot, to reflect, to study and to debate," Gaylor said. "What Clarence Darrow stood for at the Scopes Trial is as timely and imperative today as [it was] in 1925."

She said that in the world of civil liberty advocacy, science and free thought, Darrow is an "immortal."

From July 10 to July 21, 1925, the Rhea County Courthouse was the stage for the trial of Dayton High School teacher John T. Scopes, who was charged with violating a state law called the Butler Act by teaching that human beings evolved from a "lower order of animals."

Darrow defended Scopes, who was convicted and fined $100, but the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1927 because the judge and not the jury set Scopes' fine. The Butler Act stood until 1967 when it was repealed by Tennessee lawmakers. The case raised debate on issues such as separation of church and state, academic freedom and the relationship between science and religion.

The trial was memorialized in the classic 1960 film, "Inherit the Wind," and is revived annually in the Scopes Trial Play and Festival that kicked off Friday. The festival continues through July 23.

Freedom From Religion Foundation officials said most of the money for the statue was raised by members.

Pennsylvania sculptor Zenos Frudakis, who created the statue, said in April he was finishing some of the details and used photographs and film of Darrow to accurately portray him.

Dayton's Darrow has uncharacteristically short hair — he was known for the lock of hair that often hung down in his face — because Darrow cut his hair short to stay cooler in the July heat, the sculptor said in April.

On Friday, Frudakis thanked local government and historical society officials for their support and sculptor Cessna Decosimo, who did the Bryan statue.

"I think [the Darrow statue] is a nice companion piece," Frudakis said. "I hope it will do what the original trial was supposed to do; bring some business to town."

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Dan Barker read a number of Darrow's famous quotes and talked about what Darrow and Bryan now represent as Americans.

"This isn't just an event. This is history," Barker said. "This installation of the statue is an historical event in itself."

There were no protests or demonstrations, though some local residents were opposed to the Darrow statue. The audience talked, laughed and took photos of the Darrow and Bryan statues with the iconic courthouse as a backdrop.

The two famous adversaries "would have been tickled, absolutely tickled" with the event, actor John de Lancie said after the Darrow bronze was unveiled.

De Lancie, best known as "Q" on the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," played Darrow in a stage production opposite Ed Asner as Bryan.

He wondered what the pair of lawyers would have thought of drawing a crowd 92 years later.

"In all of the accomplishments of their lives and all the things that they did, that a hundred years later — almost — we would all go 'Dayton! Dayton! Oh, my gosh, the 'Monkey Trial!'" de Lancie said.

"One of the reasons it was hosted here in 1925 was to get some business in town," de Lancie said with a smile. "Here it is, 92 years later, it's about let's get some business into town."

De Lancie said the Darrow statue "is not about trying to convince somebody who believes in God, a god, [or] multiple gods, that that doesn't exist."

"Where I'm interested is to say, as Darrow said, the Bible is not a science book, it's not a biology book, it's not the place you would go to make a locomotive or steamboat," de Lancie said.

"There needs to be a separation there because otherwise our children are not growing up in a scientifically relevant environment," he said. "But I think both these things can exist in the same world."

Historian Andrew Kersten painted the two men as friendly adversaries, and said it would be wrong to characterize either one as the good or bad guy in the case.

"Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan were not mortal enemies," Kersten said. "They had known each other for decades, had their moments of close cooperation, friendship and camaraderie. And they had their disagreements, too.

"When Bryan died shortly after the trial, Darrow was shocked and very saddened, saying of his fallen friend that he was 'a man of extraordinary powers, I sincerely regret his death and extend my sympathy to his grief-stricken family,'" Kersten quoted.

As people milled about the statues, a man stood quietly, eyes closed, at the back of the crowd, close to one of the massive oaks that surround the courthouse.

Michael Arnold, a Dayton City School seventh-grade world history teacher, said he was "praying for those people, specifically those Freedom From Religion Foundation people who clearly don't know the Lord and Savior as I do."

Arnold said that, as a history teacher, he understood the historical balance the statue offers, but he said he disagreed that Darrow's likeness had a "right" to be there on the courthouse lawn. He said Bryan left a true legacy in Bryan College, the nearby school named for him, and in the home close to the courthouse where he died.

De Lancie told the crowd that "it's fitting that Bryan and now Darrow are back in the town that made them famous."

"In the world of the religious versus the secular, this is ground zero, the epicenter," de Lancie said. "I think it's been a little boring for Mr. Bryan to have been standing there all alone among only those who share his views.

"That's going to change now."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.