Last edited: March 27, 2004

Could Be Prejudice, Could Be for Economic Development

Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 20, 2004
Box 59038, Knoxville, TN 37950-9038
Fax: 423-521-8124

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.

  • Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the host of “Sound Off” on WNOX Radio AM990 and WIVK Radio FM107.7. You may reach him by going to and clicking on e-mail message.

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