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John W. Kurfees
Everybody Read!!! The Fight is On!! The Issue is Clear Cut
[Winston Salem?]: [s. n.], [1926?].


Items summarized here:

J. Sherwood Upchurch's poster titled "I Did Not Come from Him, Neither Did You!" and John W. Kurfees' pamphlet "Everybody Read!!! The Fight is On!"—both believed to have been published in 1926—highlight the backlash against the teaching of evolution in North Carolina public schools during the 1920s. According to "The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s," a web page published by UNC Library's North Carolina Collection, debate surrounding the teaching of evolution became intense in North Carolina in the early 1920s and often "pit[ted] religious leaders against educators." The 1924 approval by the State Committee on High School Textbooks of two biology textbooks discussing evolution led to Governor Cameron Morrison's removal of the texts and (Democratic) Congressman D. Scott Poole's introduction of a legislative resolution that described the teaching of evolution in public schools as "injurious to the welfare of the people of the State of North Carolina."

Although the Poole resolution never passed, it did stir intense debate and was supported by many in North Carolina. The anti-evolution fervor in North Carolina was echoed in many states in the North and South, most famously by the 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial" (State v. John Scopes) in Tennessee. The verdict, upholding Tennessee's right to fine a teacher for teaching evolution in a public school (later reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1926), encouraged "some of the leaders of the national anti-evolution movement" to "devote their energy and resources to North Carolina" ("Evolution Controversy"). Both Upchurch's poster and Kurfees' brochure are emblematic of this mid-1920s furor and debate.

J. Sherwood Upchurch's poster advertised his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives. His platform is clearly anti-evolution; his poster includes a picture of a monkey and the text "I Did Not Come From Him Neither Did You! I May Look Like Him, But I Refuse to Claim Kin On This I Stand!" Upchurch states that "They are Going to Talk about Him [the monkey] in the Next LEGISLATURE . . . I WANT TO BE THERE!" The poster contains little else, with the exception of a photograph of Upchurch and a small box outlining his experience as a Member of the Board of Aldermen, as a City Auditor and as director of the Raleigh, North Carolina, Sanitary Department. He claims that he "never cast one vote against the people," implying that any vote for the teaching of evolution would, in fact, be a vote against the people. Records indicate that Upchurch's bid for the House of Representatives was unsuccessful.

John Kurfees was also a North Carolina resident opposed to the teaching of evolution. Writing out of Winston-Salem, Kurfees' brochure, "Everybody Read!!! The Fight is On!! The Issue is Clear Cut," includes a brief introduction, followed by two previously published articles he published in North Carolina newspapers and a "Supplement" [conclusion]. Kurfees opens by stating that "The people of North Carolina must decide whether they will continue to permit the teaching of evolution, or any other theory in our schools run by taxation, which teaches that man descended (or ascended) from a low order of animal" (p. 1). Such teaching, according to Kurfees, "contradicts the account of creation recorded in God's book, the Bible" (p. 1).

Kurfees' first reprinted article, "On Misrepresentation of the Issue," attempts to counter claims that anti-evolutionists were also opposed to free speech. Instead, Kurfees argues that anyone is free to teach evolution "if they do so at their own charges" and not with the taxpayers' money. He also insists that he "would openly oppose" any law that called for the teaching of the Bible (pp. 1, 2). Calling for equity, Kurfees states that public schools should not be used "for the purpose of teaching the Bible on the one hand, and most certainly not for teaching theories that contradict the Bible on the other hand" (p. 2). He concludes his point by stating that no one is trying to "abridge" free speech, but rather, "it is speech that is not free, but that which is bought and paid for out of the pockets of North Carolina taxpayers, to which we are giving attention, and which we believe (yea know) we have the right to control" (p. 2).

Kurfees' second reprinted article, "The Homeless Liberal," attacks an editorial from the Greensboro News in which Harry Woodburn Chase, then President of the University of North Carolina, is quoted as lamenting that there is "no room for the Liberal" in the current University setting (p. 3). Doctor Chase and the editorial writer wish to include the university as a space of protected free speech, a move which would allow for more liberal teachings, including the teaching of evolution. Kurfees argues that unlike individuals and newspapers, public universities are not independently owned and therefore belong to "every man, woman and child in our Commonwealth" (p. 3). Believing he speaks for the majority of North Carolinians, Kurfees is "tired of all this child-like whining about 'freedom' to teach this, that or the other" (p. 4). While he does not object to the teaching of "truth," he does object to "the teaching of speculative theories which undermine the faith of our people in God's Book, the Bible, the foundation upon which rests the civilization of the world, to say nothing of Christianity" (p. 4).

Kurfees' final words in the brochure come in a "Supplement" which reminds readers of a group of students at the University of Rochester (New York) who formed an "Atheist's Club" (p. 4). In order to forestall such a "sad story" from repeating itself at the University of North Carolina, Kurfees encourages his readers to "urge their representatives . . . to stand four square for a law to forever ban such teaching from schools run by the peoples' taxes" (p. 4).

While the debate in which Upchurch and Kurfees participated has certainly shifted over the past 80 years, it continues in the present era. In the 2005 Pennsylvania lawsuit Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, Judge John E. Jones III ruled "in favor of science and against intelligent design"; his verdict included "a scathing denunciation of intelligent design and the naivete of a school board . . . in not checking its facts before endorsing the teaching of the alternative 'theory'" ("Darwin on Trial").

Works Consulted: "Darwin on Trial," Searcher 17.5: Information Today, Inc., May 2009; "The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s," UNC University Library, The North Carolina Collection, 2006, accessed 1 Sep. 2009.

Meredith Malburne

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