The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
New Donation of Scopes Trial Photos to the Smithsonian Archives
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ recent acquisition of a series of snapshots from the infamous Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes trial. These photographs are also available on the Smithsonian Institution's photostream in the Flickr Commons.
In the summer of 1925, Chattanooga native William Silverman, a nineteen-year-old Georgia Institute of Technology student, traveled with his former high school science teacher to Dayton, Tennessee. Silverman and his teacher took this short road trip to nearby Dayton to see the celebrities and events around the Tennessee v. John T. Scopes anti-evolution trial, and fortunately for us, he took his camera. This past November, Silverman's daughter, Henrietta Jenrette, contacted the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) inquiring about our interest in the images he took in Dayton. She had held on to these snapshots since her father's death in 1954, and she wanted to donate them in memory of her father. The negatives, at least originally kept in a little brown envelope, reveal Silverman's views of the trial. Present are both famous players and unknown spectators: Clarence S. Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, defense attorneys Arthur Garfield Hays and Dudley Field Malone, drugstore owner Fred E. Robinson, a mysterious man on the Rhea County Courthouse lawn, a young woman posing for the camera, and others. Given ties to Scopes Trial images already in our collection, we were quick to say, "Yes," to this wonderful donation offer. In 2005, SIA announced the discovery of previously unpublished Scopes Trial photos taken by Watson Davis, Director of Science Service, showing many of the people and places around the trial. Included are four shots of Clarence S. Darrow interrogating William Jennings Bryan on July 20, 1925, when the trial was taken outside because of the intense heat and large crowd. Two of Silverman's ten images also show the July 20 outdoor proceedings—but from an opposite angle. These, and indeed all, of the Silverman snapshots add a new visual take on the trial and the spectacle surrounding it. Further evidence that good things come in small brown packages.
Many of Davis's images are located in the Flickr Commons. The William Silverman photographs are now also available there. In this expanded Scopes Trial set are numerous unidentified people and any leads you have are welcome. We invite you to add to our knowledge of these historic shots. Silverman graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in business administration and went into the theater business with his father in Chattanooga. They operated two theaters for African-American audiences in the segregated city. Silverman later moved with his family to Miami, Florida, where he ran several restaurants, including Sloppy Joe's on Flagler Street. According to his daughter, many of Miami's well known figures often ate there enjoying loaded grilled hot dogs with Sloppy Joe's "famous hot chili" and freshly-squeezed fruit drinks. Tammy Peters, Supervisory Archivist in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, manages the collection and preservation of the official records of the Smithsonian Institution.