Jerome Lawrence & Robert E Lee’s Inherit The Wind.
The early 1920s found social patterns in chaos. Traditionalists, the older Victorians, worried that everything valuable was ending. Younger modernists no longer asked whether society would approve of their behavior, only whether their behavior met the approval of their intellect. Intellectual experimentation flourished. Americans danced to the sound of the Jazz Age, showed their contempt for alcoholic prohibition, debated abstract art and Freudian theories. In a response to the new social patterns set in motion by modernism, a wave of revivalism developed, becoming especially strong in the American South. Who would dominate American culture – the modernists or the traditionalists? Journalists were looking for a showdown, and they found one in a Dayton, Tennessee courtroom in the summer of 1925. © Douglas Linder 2002
Based on the true events of the famous ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ in 1920s America, a small town schoolteacher is arrested when it is discovered that he is teaching his pupils the theory of evolution. He is accused of speaking out against the Bible and being a ‘free thinker’, corrupting children’s minds. There follows a trial of such passion and conviction that there has never been any courtroom drama to better this incredibly moving piece of theatre. Two of America’s most revered lawyers pit their wits and examine their own beliefs, while a town is exposed to international scrutiny and consequently torn asunder in the search for truth and justice.
A play of power, humanity and universal truth.
From Dayton to Hillsboro: drama not history
It was May 5, 1925. A group of civic leaders was gathered in Robinson’s Drugstore in Dayton talking about news of the day.
Finally – it seemed by chance though it had been arranged by two of the participants the day before – the topic of Tennessee’s law banning the teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution slipped into the conversation. The young mine supervisor suggested that Dayton could accept the offer of the American Civil Liberties Union and sponsor a legal test of that law. That challenge might attract some notice, might lead businessmen to invest in the ailing Dayton Coal and Iron Co., Ltd., begun by British and Scottish financiers some fifty years earlier, and thus help the area work its way out of the economic doldrums that were a harbinger of the Great Depression.
The high school principal, who also taught biology, wanted no part of the scheme. Someone suggested John Scopes might stand in. Scopes was young; he had just finished his first year as mathematics, chemistry, and general science teacher and as football, basketball, and baseball coach. Scopes was summoned to the meeting, presented the proposition, and agreed to be the defendant, “if you can prove that I taught evolution.”
In fact, the school year was over, Scopes had only substituted briefly in the biology class and, in his autobiography and later newspaper interviews, pointed out that he had never taught Darwin’s theory and was a willing participant in the trial. Following the trial, he was offered his job back, but elected to attend graduate school instead.
In 1925, Dayton was a religious community with progressive aspirations. Still, when the trial was about to begin, lawyers and witnesses for the defense were welcomed to town. Trial organizers planned dinners in honor of both Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.
Dayton bristled at the “monkey town” image portrayed in the news media, and seemingly adopted an “if we ignore it, it will go away” attitude toward the trial. In 1988, the community began addressing the issue for itself as Bryan College produced a dramatic adaptation of the trial transcript in the courtroom where the trial was held. The production, which has won praise from both sides of the origins issue, is presented each July.
“Inherit the Wind” is not the most popular play in Dayton because it is a historically inaccurate treatment of the Scopes Trial, written to oppose the controversial Congressional communistic investigations of the 1950’s. What Daytonians do like is for people interested in the Scopes Trial to discover the facts behind the fiction. The 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson is the best resource, and on the internet, helpful sites are those of the University of Missouri Law School. (www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/scopes.htm) and Bryan College (www.bryan.edu)
Above all, we invite you to visit Dayton and see for yourself.
Tom Davis – Director of public information for Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, Chairman of the Scopes Festival and of the Rhea County Commission.