Clarence Darrow lives again, in The New Yorker

Again, I find myself sitting at Jill Lepore’s feet. Please join me.

In the May 23, 2011 New Yorker, she writes “Objection: Clarence Darrow’s unfinished work.”

Because of my intimacy with the Scopes trial (about which I’ve written—see above About Naomi, and click on my web site to read the clip), I read Lepore’s exegesis on Darrow with fascination. Really, with love.

She begins:

The day the strikers’ wives pelted the scabs with rotten eggs and a strike-breaker and Irish ex-cop named Edward Casey cracked Jimmie Morris’s skull, the governor of Wisconsin called in the National Guard from Milwaukee.

That strike against the Paine Lumber Company occurred in 1898. It was an initiator of the union movement and in its facts, as Lepore relates them, you understand why unions got started and why we will always need them.

Immediately my mind flashed onto another, more contemporary situation — but Lepore is so compelling, she pulled me right back to Clarence Darrow and a vivid sketch of his remarkable life as a lawyer, especially his passionate, powerful, still moving court representation of union men.

Then, just as I thought she wasn’t going to mention it, these are Lepore’s last two paragraphs:

…Darrow left the labor movement. He went on to do his best work, speaking and writing against fundamentalism, eugenics, the death penalty, and Jim Crow. “America seems to have an epidemic of intolerance,” he wrote. That’s still true. And the Gilded Age debate about the right to strike did not end in Sawdust City; a century later, it’s still going on. Just this past March, Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, signed a law making public-sector collective bargaining a crime.

“Gentlemen, the world is dark,” Darrow told that jury in Oshkosh, “but it is not hopeless.” After all, no attorney for the damned ever lacks for work.




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