May 4, 1925 (a Monday)

George Rappleyea in June 1925

On this date, George Rappalyea, a 31-year-old transplanted New Yorker and local coal company manager, arrived at Fred Robinson’s drugstore in Dayton, Tennessee with a copy of a paper containing an American Civil Liberties Union announcement that it was willing to offer its services to anyone challenging the new Tennessee anti-evolution statute. Rappalyea, a modernist Methodist with contempt for the new law, argued to other town leaders that a trial would be a way of putting Dayton on the map. Listening to Rappalyea, the others – including School Superintendent Walter White – became convinced that publicity generated by a controversial trial might help their town, whose population had fallen from 3,000 in the 1890’s to 1,800 in 1925. Thus, the “Robinson’s drugstore conspiracy” to put Dayton, Tennessee on the map was put into motion.

The conspirators summoned John Scopes, a twenty-four-year old general science teacher and part-time football coach, to the drugstore. As Scopes later described the meeting, Rappalyea said, “John, we’ve been arguing and I said nobody could teach biology without teaching evolution.” Scopes agreed. “That’s right,” he said, pulling a copy of Hunter’s Civic Biology – the state-approved textbook – from one of the shelves of the drugstore (the store also sold school textbooks). “You’ve been teaching ’em this book?” Rappalyea asked. Scopes replied that while filling in for the regular biology teacher during an illness, he had assigned readings on evolution from the book for review purposes. “Then you’ve been violating the law,” Rappalyea concluded. “Would you be willing to stand for a test case?” he asked. Scopes agreed. He later explained his decision: “The best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle.”

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