John T. Scopes
|John T. Scopes|
|Born||John Thomas Scopes|
August 3, 1900
Paducah, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||October 21, 1970 (aged 70)|
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
|Known for||Scopes Monkey Trial|
|Spouse(s)||Mildred E. Walker (Née) Scopes|
John Thomas Scopes (August 3, 1900 – October 21, 1970) was a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, who was charged on May 5, 1925, with violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. He was tried in a case known as the Scopes Trial, in which he was found guilty and fined $100.
Scopes was born in 1900 and his parents were Thomas Scopes and Mary Alva Brown who lived on a farm in Paducah, Kentucky, John was the fifth child and only son. The family moved to Danville, Illinois when John was a teenager. In 1917, he moved to Salem, Illinois where he was a member of the class of 1919 at Salem High School. He attended the University of Illinois for a short time before leaving for health reasons. He earned a degree at the University of Kentucky in 1924, with a major in law and a minor in geology. Scopes moved to Dayton where he took a job as the Rhea County High School's football coach and occasionally filled in as a substitute teacher when regular members of the staff were off work.
Scopes's involvement in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial came about after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it would finance a test case challenging the constitutionality of the Butler Act if they could find a Tennessee teacher who was willing to act as a defendant.
A band of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee, led by engineer and geologist George Rappleyea, saw this as an opportunity to get publicity for their town and they approached Scopes. Rappleyea pointed out that while the Butler Act prohibited the teaching of human evolution, the state required teachers to use the assigned textbook, Hunter's Civic Biology (1914), which included a chapter on evolution. Rappleyea argued that teachers were essentially required to break the law. When asked about the test case, Scopes was initially reluctant to get involved, but after some discussion he 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."
By the time the trial had begun, the defense team included Clarence Darrow, Dudley Field Malone, John Neal, Arthur Garfield Hays and Frank McElwee. The prosecution team, led by Tom Stewart, included brothers Herbert Hicks and Sue K. Hicks, Wallace Haggard, father and son pairings Ben and J. Gordon McKenzie, and William Jennings Bryan and William Jennings Bryan Jr. Bryan, Senior, had spoken at Scopes' high school commencement and remembered the defendant laughing while he was giving the address to the graduating class six years earlier.
The case ended on July 21, 1925, with a guilty verdict, and Scopes was fined $100. The case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. In a 3–1 decision written by Chief Justice Grafton Green, the Butler Act was held to be constitutional, but the court overturned Scopes's conviction because the judge had set the fine instead of the jury. The Butler Act remained in effect until May 18, 1967, when it was repealed by the Tennessee legislature.
Scopes may have actually been innocent of the crime to which his name is inexorably linked. After the trial Scopes admitted to reporter William Kinsey Hutchinson "I didn't violate the law," explaining that he had skipped the evolution lesson, and that his lawyers had coached his students to go on the stand; the Dayton businessmen had assumed that he had violated the law. Hutchinson did not file his story until after the Scopes appeal was decided in 1927. In 1955, the trial was made into a play titled Inherit the Wind starring Paul Muni as a character based on Clarence Darrow and Ed Begley as a character based on William Jennings Bryan. In 1960, a film version of the play starred Spencer Tracy as the Darrow character and Fredric March as the Bryan character.
Both the play and the film engage in literary license with the facts and should not be relied on as historically accurate portrayals of the event. For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher. William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a "busted belly" while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom. The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that happened in Dayton, Tennessee, during the actual trial.
Life After the Trial
The results of the Scopes Trial affected the life of John T. Scopes professionally and personally. The public image of Scopes was mocked in animation, cartoonists, and other mediums in the following years. Scopes himself retreated from the public eye and focused his attention on his career. In September 1925, Scopes enrolled in the graduate school of University of Chicago to finish his studies in geology. Evidence of harassment by the press is highlighted by Frank Throne, “You may be interested to know that Mr. John T. Scopes of anti-evolution trial fame expects to take up the study of geology as a graduate of student of Chicago this fall….Please do what you can to protect him from the importunities of Chicago reporters….He is a modest and unassuming young chap, and has been subjected to a great deal more limelight than he likes.”
A year later, the Tennessee Supreme Court decision of 1926 prompted the press to pursue Scopes again. During this time Scopes wrote to Thorn, “I am tired of fooling with them.” It is evident that the media attention given to Scopes was affecting him emotionally.
Even worse, the Depression combined with being a significant figure of the scopes trail affected his career. After graduation, Scopes was “barred” from career opportunities in Tennessee, requiring him and his wife to move to Kentucky in his childhood home around 1930. Striking out in education, Scopes attempted a political career the summer of 1932 as a Kentucky congressman. He registered on the Socialist ticket and suffered a horrible defeat. In the end, Scopes returned to the oil industry where we served as an oil expert until his 1964 retirement. 
Later in life, the media surrounding John T. Scopes calmed down. Occasionally, Scopes would be dragged into the spotlight for events like the 1960 Inherit the Wind premier, accepting the key to city, and participating in the celebration of John T. Scopes day.
Scopes and the story of his trial was featured in the first segment of the October 10, 1960, episode of the television game show To Tell the Truth.
In June 1967, Scopes wrote Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes.
In his life, John T. Scopes “made a quiet gentle sacrifice of livelihood for principle” which affected his personally and professionally.
Personal life and death
Scopes married Mildred Elizabeth Scopes (née Walker) (1905–1990). Together they had two sons: John Thomas Jr. and William Clement "Bill". He died on October 21, 1970 of cancer in Shreveport, Louisiana at the age of 70.
- "Scopes of 'Monkey Trial' Is Dead at 70". New York Times. New York Times: The New York Times Company. October 23, 1970. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
- Manuscripts & Folklife Archives 2013, p. 2.
- Leonard & Crainshaw 1997, p. 710.
- Wilson 2012, p. 43.
- Scopes & Presley 1967, p. 60.
- Paxton 2013, p. 104.
- See Tenn. Const. art. VI, s. 14; see also, Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S.W. 363 (1926)
- De Camp 1968, p. 435.
- Frank Throne to Donald Glassman, September 14, 1925, Science Service Record (RU7091), Box 83, Folder I..
- J.T. Scopes to Frank Thorne, [no date on letter other than "Sunday" but it was received in the Science Service office on February 8, 1927], Science Service Records (RU7091), Box 90, Folder 5. Scopes was referring to the local chapter house of the Gamma Alpha Graduate Scientific Fraternity. Se also John T. Scopes to Kirtley F. Mather, January 24, 1927, Denison University Archives, 12P MI Box 19, K. B. Bork Biography of Kirtley Mather, "Scopes, John T./Scopes Trail."
- See, for example, Frank Thorne to Winterton C. Curtis, March 12, 1931, Science Service Records (RU7091), Box 123, Folder 4; and J. Harlen Bretz to Frank Thorne, December 7, 1931, Science Service Records (RU7091), Box 122, Folder 7.
- "Scopes of Evolution Frame Seeks Congress Seat," Chicago Daily Tribune, August 13, 1932; "Scopes Names in House Race," Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1932; "'Monkey Trail' Figure Named for Congress," New York Times, August 13, 1932; and "Kentucky Official Majority Is 185,858," Washington Post, November 29, 1932.
- Lafollette, Marcel Chotkowskt (2008). Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the trail of the Century. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. p. 122.
- Lafollette, Marcel Chotkowski (2008). Reframing the Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs form the Trial of the Century. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas. p. 123.
- Scopes, John T.; Presley, James (1967). Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes (1st ed.). New York City: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-0030603402.
- Mildred E. Walker Scopes at Find a Grave
- "MSS 419 SCOPES, John Thomas, 1900–1970". Manuscripts & Folklife Archives. Bowling Green, Kentucky: Western Kentucky University. 2013. p. 2.
- Bill J. Leonard; Jill Y. Crainshaw, eds. (1997). Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 710. ISBN 978-0313296918.
- Wilson, John (2012). Failed Hope: The Story of the Lost Peace (14th ed.). Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-1459703452.
- Scopes, John T.; Presley, James (1967). Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes (1st ed.). New York City: Henry Holt and Company. p. 60. ISBN 978-0030603402.
- Paxton, Mark (2013). Media Perspectives on Intelligent Design and Evolution. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 104. ISBN 978-0313380648.
- De Camp, L. Sprague (1968). The Great Monkey Trial (1st ed.). New York City: Doubleday. p. 435. ISBN 978-0385046251.
- Tompkins, Jerry R. (1965). D-Days at Dayton. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 15–16.
- Bryan, William Jennings; Darrow, Clarence; Scopes, John Thomas (1925). The World's Most Famous Court Trial, Tennessee Evolution Case; A Complete Stenographic Report of the Famous Court Test of the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act, at Dayton, July 10 to 21, 1925, Including Speeches and Arguments of Attorneys. Cincinnati: National Book Company. Retrieved October 11, 2007.
- "Famous Trials in American History: Tennessee vs. John Scopes". Retrieved February 13, 2009.