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Crime Hearings Come To Capitol Hill – Celebrating The Scopes Trial – A Dilemma Among Military Leaders – March 16, 1951

Crime Committee Hearings - Frank Costello
Frank Costello – Playing Dodgeball with the Crime Committee.

CBS Radio – Hear It Now – Week of March 16, 1951 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

The Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings moved to New York and were in full-swing this week in March 1951. On the witness stand (or in the hotseat, depending) was leading Organized Crime figure Frank Costello, who went through a vigorous series of questions – countering the scrutiny and evading answering with a case of Laryngitis which, in his words, prevented him from giving any sort of testimony. Pressing on, Costello became more belligerent and argumentative, bringing up his own Doctor to testify that Costello was in no condition to offer testimony and that, above and beyond, the lights and television cameras were a distraction and further impeded Costello’s ability to render any sort of coherent testimony. After much back-and-forth between Costello’s attorney and Doctor and Committee Chairman Estes Kefauver, the hearings were adjourned until Monday, where it was hoped the circus atmosphere would calm down by then.

It was also a week of commemoration. This week marked the 26th anniversary of the legendary Scopes vs. State of Tennessee trial. Commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was an American legal case from July 10 to July 21, 1925, in which a high school teacher, John T. Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which had made it illegal for teachers to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he incriminated himself deliberately so the case could have a defendant.

Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100 (equivalent to $1,500 in 2021), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The trial served its purpose of drawing intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to Dayton to cover the high-profile lawyers who had agreed to represent each side. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and former secretary of state, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow served as the defense attorney for Scopes. The trial publicized the fundamentalist–modernist controversy, which set Modernists, who said evolution could be consistent with religion, against fundamentalists, who said the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. The case was thus seen both as a theological contest and as a trial on whether evolution should be taught in schools.

And crime of another sort this week as the issue over how much was too much information when it came to divulging Military secrets to members of the Senate and Congress was argued on Capitol Hill. The problem was how much information could the Military give to lawmakers that wouldn’t wind up being leaked and running the very real possibility of being a threat to American Security. It wasn’t a question of withholding information as much as letting it get out and wind up in the wrong hands, as had been an issue in recent years.

And along with the ongoing Crime Hearings, that’s just a small portion of what went on this week, ending March 16, 1951 as reported by Edward R. Murrow and Hear It Now over CBS Radio.

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