I am so delighted to see this!
Although the delight is tempered by reading the story about this statue. Because I can see the fundamentalist Christians in Dayton, Tennessee are as fundamentalist Christian as they have ever been, certainly as fundamentalist as they were when I was in Dayton in 1995.
When I was in Dayton working on my New York Times piece about the Scopes trial and the courthouse, I stayed at a beautiful old inn, run by a woman who was a native Daytonian and had gone to the same high school where Scopes taught. (Dayton tore that high school down, as well as tearing down other historical places intrinsic to the trial story.)
We sat around talking around her kitchen table a couple of times and she gave me a bunch of historical documents relating to the trial. I’d learned of Bryan College, founded a couple of years after the trial and Bryan’s death.
“Oh yeah,” she said dryly, describing the college, “The Cult.” And she told me the college produced (1) missionaries and (2) church organists.
Richard Fausset, the Times journalist who covered this story, writes of Dayton’s citizens:
There is an enduring pride in being a part of American history. There is an eternal hope for tourism revenue–a sense that the event once known as the trial of the century is the town’s calling card, its giant ball of twine.
Nicely written, but Dayton’s hope for tourism revenue was what brought the trial to the town in the first place, and if Daytonians have “an enduring pride in being a part of American history,” they are mistaking how American history viewed them in 1925 and views them now: as anti-intellectual religious zealots ferociously trashed as rural idiots by H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun.
Read the piece and you’ll meet June Griffin, believer in the biblical version of creation, who led a protest against the Darrow statue. A “public policy adviser to the conservative Liberty Counsel,” described the gathering as a protest against the “ongoing attempt by secularists in America to blur or remove symbols reminding us of our Judeo-Christian heritage.”
Fausset writes “the trial which civil libertarians hoped would test a state law at the time that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools.” I bolded the key phrase because the Butler Act, that state law, enacted in 1925, remained Tennessee law until 1967. It wasn’t a “state law at the time;” it was a state law for more than four decades. And it didn’t ban the teaching of evolution in public schools; it banned the teaching of anything, like science, that contradicted the absolute truth of the bible.
Does that sound familiar?
So a big bravo to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (described in the article as “an atheist group.” Not quite–it doesn’t preach atheism; it supports the First Amendment) which funded the Clarence Darrow statue.
I must go back to Dayton and see Clarence Darrow before June Griffin’s prediction that the statue won’t last long is realized. “There are a bunch of people back on the mountain, you don’t know what they’re going to do,” she is quoted as saying. “But I’m just going to leave them to their devices.”
When the trial took place, June Griffin’s “bunch of people back on the mountain,” were moonshiners whose brains were probably fried by the rotgut they produced. So…