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The Trial in American Life$
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Robert A. Ferguson

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780226243252

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226243283.001.0001

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Where Courtrooms and Communities Meet

Where Courtrooms and Communities Meet

(p.5) Chapter One Where Courtrooms and Communities Meet
The Trial in American Life
University of Chicago Press

The most famous confrontation in an American courtroom took place in 1925, when Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan squared off as opposing counsel over the teaching of evolution in the public schools of Tennessee. Darrow surprised everyone by convincing Bryan to appear as an expert witness on the Bible and then using Bryan's literal interpretation of Scripture to make him look foolish on the stand. Well beyond its notoriety as the “monkey trial” of 1925, State of Tennessee v. John T. Scopes epitomizes problems that arise in a high-profile trial and symbolizes the way courtrooms mold public opinion. It also supplies a cautionary tale about all high-profile trials. Courtrooms are supposed to educate communities as well as decide for them, but for that to happen effectively the legal profession as well as citizens and the media that inform them must grasp the nature of dynamic interaction in a high-profile trial. The presentations around a high-profile trial form a continuum of publication, and the synergy between texts is an ignored resource in understanding what happened.

Keywords:   Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, evolution, public schools, Tennessee, courtrooms, public opinion, communities

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