Grave of John T. Scopes

Historical Marker #1698 in McCracken County commemorates John T. Scopes, who made national headlines as the defendant in the famous Tennessee "Monkey Trial."

Scopes was born in Paducah, Kentucky, on August 3, 1900. After moving to Illinois in 1911, Scopes attended the University of Illinois before graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1924. The following year, the twenty-five year old Scopes found himself at the center of "one of the greatest trials of the twentieth century."

In passing the Butler Act in 1924, the Tennessee legislature proclaimed it "unlawful for any teacher . . . to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."

A year later, Scopes began his teaching career at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee. Young and unmarried, a group of locals saw Scopes as the perfect candidate to test the new legislation and to bring attention to Dayton in order to help boost its declining economy.

Scopes confessed to teaching evolution in the class, and was "arrested" on May 7, 1925. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided the defense for Scopes, which included the agnostic lawyer Clarence Darrow. The prosecution brought in the fundamentalist politician and publically anti-Darwinist William Jennings Bryan.

The term "Monkey Trial" was coined by the Baltimore newspaper writer and editor, H. L. Mencken. This became the lasting moniker of the trial, which began on July 10. The circus-like atmosphere reached its pinnacle when Bryan testified as a Biblical expert and endured a grueling cross-examination by defense attorney Darrow. The trial, which lasted eleven days, ended with Scopes being convicted of violating the Butler Act. He was forced to pay a $100 fine.

Post-trial, Scopes attended graduate school at the University of Chicago. He then returned to Paducah where he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. He retired from United Gas Company in 1964 before his death in Louisiana in 1970. He is buried in Paducah.