John T. Scopes

From Academic Kids

John Thomas Scopes (August 3, 1900October 21, 1970), a biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee at the age of 24, was charged on May 25, 1925 with violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. He was urged on by friends to teach the theory of evolution after the Tennessee state legislature passed the act. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it would finance a test case challenging its constitutionality if a Tennessee teacher would deliberately violate the statute.

A group of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee saw this as an opportunity to get publicity for their city and approached Scopes, who was the high school's football coach and who had substituted for the principal in the school's science class. Scopes pointed out that while the Butler Act prohibited the teaching of evolution, the state required teachers to use the assigned textbook, in this case Hunter's Civic Biology. Scopes argued that teachers were essentially required to break the law. When asked about the test case Scopes told the group gathered in Robinson's Drugstore, "If you can prove that I've taught evolution and that I can qualify as a defendant, then I'll be willing to stand trial."

In the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial, he was defended by Clarence Darrow, Dudley Field Malone, and Arthur Garfield Hays, and prosecuted by Tom Stewart and William Jennings Bryan. Bryan had spoken at Scopes' high school commencement and remembered the defendant laughing while Bryan was giving the address to Scopes' graduating class six years earlier. The case ended with a guilty verdict, and Scopes was given a $100 fine, which Bryan nevertheless offered to pay, but which was later overturned on a technicality.

Ironically, in reality Scopes never taught evolution and was therefore innocent of the crime to which his name is inexorably linked. After the trial Scopes admitted to reporter William K. Hutchinson "I didn't violate the law," explaining he had skipped the evolution lesson and his lawyers had coached his students to go on the stand: the Dayton businessmen had assumed he had violated the law. Hutchinson did not file his story until after the Scopes appeal was decided in 1927. Scopes also admitted the truth to the wife of the Modernist minister Charles Francis Potter. Scopes was not allowed to take the stand at his trial for fear he would reveal his ignorance and turned down a $50,000 offer to lecture on evolution on the vaudeville stage because he did not know enough about the subject.

After the trial, Scopes went to the University of Chicago, where he received a master's degree in geology. After that he was mainly employed by the oil industry, in both the United States and Venezuela. He died at the age of 70, probably from a stroke. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Paducah, Kentucky.

John Scopes wrote an autobiography entitled Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes. (Henry Holt & Company, Inc.—June 1967), ISBN 0030603404de:John Thomas Scopes it:John T. Scopes


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