Could Be Prejudice, Could Be for Economic Development
News-Sentinel, March 20, 2004
Box 59038, Knoxville, TN 37950-9038
By Frank Cagle
The week that was requires historical perspective:
In 1925 the citizens of Rhea County rose up in righteous
anger and put John Scopes on trial for daring to teach evolution to its
children and thus pollute their minds and lead them into the dangerous world
of 20th-century science and the dangers of secularism.
The trial featured a swarm of national media complete
with live radio broadcasts and frequent wire service dispatches from a hot and
crowded courtroom. Hundreds of people descended on Dayton for the trial.
Three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan spent all day on the
prosecution and most of the night leading revival services, interspersed with
gargantuan meals of fine Southern cooking. These labors led to his death a
week after the trial was over. Clarence Darrow was Scopes’ defense attorney.
If you think the O.J. Simpson trial was a circus, you
ought to go back and read H.L. Mencken’s accounts of the Monkey Trial that
made Tennessee a laughingstock around the world.
Over the decades, a story has grown up in East Tennessee
that all this was a put-up job to arrest Scopes and hold the trial in order to
bring business and tourism to Rhea County. I don’t know what the motives of
some of the people in Dayton were, but the people who crowded the courtroom
and the services were certainly serious about their beliefs.
There are those today who think Rhea County Commissioner
J.C. Fugate is nuts because he introduced resolutions this week advocating
that homosexuals be banned from the county. Well, I think cooler heads in Rhea
County will step in and put this matter behind them. I don’t think most
people there want another Monkey Trial.
Downtown Dayton is one of the more charming places in
Tennessee. The courthouse square is lovely, and it is surrounded by a nice,
old downtown atmosphere. I think Fugate may have been, in his own clumsy way,
trying to spark the economic boom of the Monkey Trial. Perhaps he is hoping
that a caravan of rich, defiant gays and lesbians will descend on Dayton and
spark an economic boom, transform the picturesque square into a collection of
fabulous shops and enable citizens to finally get a decent cup of cappuccino.
Then again, maybe Fugate is just what he appears.
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