The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s

T.T. Martin (1862-1939)

Thomas Theodore Martin was the son of noted Baptist minister, evangelist, and college professor Matthew Thomas Martin. He was born in Smith County, Mississippi in 1862, educated locally, and graduated from Mississippi College in 1886. After working for a brief time as a teacher, Martin was ordained a Baptist minister in 1888 and entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky in the same year. For the next eight years he pursued his seminary degree while preaching in churches in Kentucky and Colorado.

With degree in hand in 1896, Martin was awaiting appointment as a missionary when he suffered a near fatal attack of food poisoning. He returned to Colorado to recover, and while preaching at Cripple Creek, often in the open air, Martin not only regained his health but also developed an effective and robust preaching style. In 1900 he began work as an evangelist and established a national reputation with the help of his organization, the Blue Mountain Evangelists.

Historians credit Martin with striking the first blow in the anti-evolution movement in North Carolina when in 1920 he attacked William Louis Poteat, President of Wake Forest College, in a series of articles in the Western Recorder, a Baptist publication in Kentucky. In two articles Martin criticized Poteat's position on theological issues, but in the third he denounced Poteat's reconciliation of Darwin's theory of evolution and Christian faith.

Although his attacks on Poteat failed, Martin continued his campaign against evolution, and in 1923 he wrote Hell and the High Schools, an attack on the teaching of the theory of evolution. He appeared prominently at the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925, and held important posts in national anti-evolution organizations, including the Anti-Evolution League of America and the Bible Crusaders of America. After a victorious campaign which resulted in the passage of anti-evolution legislation in Mississippi, Martin came to North Carolina in 1926 to join in the fight to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. He died in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1939.

Sources:

Lloyd, James B., ed. Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1958.

Gatewood, Willard B., Jr. "Preachers, Pedagogues & Politicians: The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina, 1920-1927." Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

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