I had left Spencer and was heading for Pikeville on Highway 30 when the dog came roaring out to eat me. He was a big dog, a really BIG, ugly dog. His daddy must have been a Bullmastiff and his mommy a Rottweiler. And I am sure that he had experienced an unhappy puppyhood. I was about to drop down a steep hill; thirty feet farther and I could have cranked down on my pedals and been gone. As it was, I leapt off my bike and grabbed my air pump, careful to keep my bike between the monster and me. “No, bad dog!” I yelled. He growled. I reached down and grabbed a large rock. Usually this is a sign for the dog to exit the scene. All he did was snarl deep snarls and creep forward, salivating, ready to pounce. Oh boy, I thought, this is it.
And then fate intervened. It was almost enough to make me change my ideas about God. A bee landed on his nose and stung him. Or maybe it was a large horsefly that bit him. Whatever it was, I was on my bike and out of there faster than he could fall to the ground and start pawing at his abused snout. Had he been a cheetah, he might have caught me. But I doubt it.
I forgave the dog. It was up to his owner to keep him leashed or in his yard. And I suspect he had been trained to behave as he did. I wasn’t so forgiving of the truck driver that gave me flying lessons.
I had been daydreaming and taken a wrong turn out of Pikeville. Discovering my mistake, I had turned around and was happily contemplating a hamburger. That’s when the 18-wheeler came up behind me going about 60. A car was coming from the other direction. The truck driver didn’t even slow down. He flew by inches away. The turbulence from the rear of the truck literally raised my bike and me three feet off of the ground. I landed hard. How I managed to stay upright, I don’t know. The only damage was two flats. It could have been ever so worse. A kind, Tennessee driver stopped to make sure I was okay. The trucker just kept on trucking.
I made it into Dayton without any further incidents. It’s a pretty town that borders on the Tennessee River. The Scopes Trial is its claim to fame. The event started as a publicity stunt.
In 1925, the State of Tennessee had passed a law that outlawed teaching evolution in public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had responded by offering to support anyone who would challenge the law. Some business people in Dayton, meeting over coffee at the local drug store, had decided that jumping into the fray would give their community some much-needed publicity and improve its stagnant economy. They recruited a substitute science teacher, John Scopes, to claim he had taught evolution in the local high school. (Scopes actually didn’t remember whether he had or not.) He was duly arrested and the circus came to town.
William Jennings Bryan arrived for the prosecution. He was a populist who had run for President (unsuccessfully) three times on the Democratic ticket and was considered the best orator in the US. He had fought against big banks and big corporations. You may be familiar with his most famous quote: “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” He supported women getting the right to vote. He was also a devout Christian who favored prohibition and fervently believed that humans had jumped from clay and ribs to who we are— without any messy steps between. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association sponsored him.
Clarence Darrow came to defend John Scopes and the cause of teaching evolution in schools on behalf of the ACLU. He shared many of Bryan’s beliefs. He was a populist and Democrat who devoted his life to defending those he considered underdogs. He represented labor interests and became known as one of the best criminal defense lawyers ever. He passionately opposed the death penalty. His religious views were that of an agnostic, believing that we cannot know for sure whether God exists, and, if so, what his (or her) true nature is.
Media came from around the world to witness this colossal battle between science and religion, as did every huckster for hundreds of miles around. The Baltimore Sun sent its nationally renowned reporter, H.L. Mencken, to report on the event. Mencken was noted for his sharp tongue, cynicism, and biting humor. He had coined the phrase ‘Bible Belt’ and had immediately dubbed the Scopes Trial the ‘monkey trial.’ He described the prosecution and jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” It was Mencken who had encouraged Darrow to participate.
For all of the hoopla, little was decided by the trial. The judge, a man with fundamentalist beliefs, suppressed any evidence on behalf of evolution. The jury was only allowed to consider whether Scopes was guilty of breaking Tennessee law, which he had according to his own testimony. He was found guilty and fined $100. (The charge and fine were later dropped on a technicality.)
The issue obviously didn’t go away. Millions of words have been written about the trial. It was recreated in the 1960 movie, Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy. Tennessee didn’t remove the statute barring evolution from being taught until 1967.
Today, fundamentalists argue that evolution should be taught in US schools only as a theory with “intelligent design” being given equal billing. Teachers, principals, school boards and state legislatures continue to be pressured to bring the Bible back into the classroom. I’ve told the story before how a parent walked into Peggy’s office when she was principal of an elementary school and demanded that all books on dinosaurs in the school library be removed because dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible. She had told the man that he had the right to remove his son from the school, but the books were staying. If the son stayed, he was going to learn about dinosaurs.
Dayton is still reaping the benefits of the trial. It has rebuilt the courtroom where the Scopes Trial took place to look exactly like it did in 1925. Once a year it has a pageant that relives the trial. Peggy and I made a point of visiting the courthouse on our route review.
NEXT BLOG: It’s up and over the Great Smokey Mountains and into Cherokee, North Carolina where bears roam the streets! (Sort of.)