Proposed statue of Clarence Darrow causing controversy in Rhea County
The Rhea County Courthouse is famous as the site of the controversial "Scopes Evolution Trial" back in 1925.
The Rhea County Courthouse is famous as the site of the controversial "Scopes Evolution Trial" back in 1925. High school substitute teacher John t. Scopes was accused of breaking the law by teaching human Evolution in a state-funded classroom.
Scopes was convicted, but the decision was later reversed on a legal technicality. The town celebrates the county's courtroom history with a Scopes Play and Festival each year. Rhea County officials recently approved the addition of a new statue to add on the courthouse front lawn, but some residents in the community aren't welcoming it.
Long time activist, June Griffin tells us she's one of many taking a stand against the proposed statue of Clarence Darrow. She says the lawyer ideas about evolution go against everything she and others who live in the tight-knit community believe.
"All history proves the existence of God and Evolution is a joke for any thinking person," said Griffin. " This is a very serious matter, the courthouse is a sacred place, you don't turn it into a theater."
Inside the historic courthouse basement, you'll find rooms full of artifacts and documents detailing the controversial trial. There's already a statue outside of the prosecutor in the case, William Jennings Bryan, but nothing for attorney Darrow who defended John T. Scopes.
The county's historical society approved the installment of Darrow's statue, they say it's about preserving history and nothing more.
"Well it's just a recognition of these two men who were giants in their profession and the part that they contributed to making the Scopes trial what it was," said Ralph Green, President of Rhea Co. Historical Society. " It would not have been the same thing without either of them."
Many residents are upset because there was never an official vote.
"Well I know, God is real and he's not pleased with this," said Griffin. "You can come in here with all kinds of French opinions of this, that and the other but this is not France and we don't run on opinions and an atheist is not on an equal footing with the Christian."
"The opposition is centered on the effect of Darrow's ideas an dour purpose is not promoting his ideas or anything of that nature... it's just a recognition of the man and his historical significance," said Green.
June Griffin says she and others will continue to stand up for their beliefs.
"You (commissioners) have betrayed the people of this county, you have betrayed them," said Griffin. "There are people that live on the outskirts and they don't make appointments with Channel 3, they just do things and I've heard talk of 'well there's always spray paint.'"
The statue is being sculpted by Pennsylvania artist Zenos Frudakis who hopes the piece will bring more balance among a divided story line in Dayton. Frudakis says he was surprised to see this kind of opposition in 2017, but he believes Darrow's story is just as important as Bryans and should be portrayed equally.
The statue is scheduled to be put in place July 14th just in time for the Scopes Trial Play and Festival to begin. There's also a rally and protest planned at the courthouse on July, 1 at 10 a.m.
County Mayor George Thacker tells us the County Commission ultimately let the Rhea County Historic Society make the decision, because it did not require a vote. He said the William Jennings Bryan statue was not voted on either when it was installed several years ago.
In addition, county officials say they hope to eventually turn the old courthouse into a full museum in an effort to boost local tourism.