The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s
Alumni Review, April 1925

View complete article
(opens in new window).

[Source Description: Frank Porter Graham, "Evolution, The University and the People." Alumni Review 13 (1924-1925), pp. 205-207. About this source.]

Excerpt from article: ". . . Evolution was taught at the University by North Carolinians before President Chase was born. Though modified from time to time with the increase of knowledge, the theory of evolution has moved from conquest to conquest and is now an important part of the teaching of geology, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology. It is taught in most of the colleges in every civilized nation in the world. It is taught by Christian missionaries in the colleges of Asia and Africa. Today students in many of the high schools in both hemispheres accept the theory as freely as they do the Copernican system and the circulation of the blood. By papal edict it was handed down that the earth did not move around the sun and by solemn law it was enacted that the blood did not circulate from the heart through the body. But fortunately for the human race the earth continued on its celestial course and the blood went on its arterial way. Despite reports to the contrary, ex cathedra in medieval times and ex lege in modern times, the earth revolves, the blood circulates, and life evolves not only biologically, from simpler to more complex organisms, but also socially, with restless searchings of men for the kingdom of God. The great evolutionary process wins its way to acceptance around the world in accordance with laws higher than the constitution, whether joined or opposed by the misconceptions of men and the laws of states.

"The Poole Bill raises issues older than the State of North Carolina. The inquisition, the index, and the stake are the unclaimed ancestors of the Poole Bill. Bruno chose to be burned to death rather than be saved on ecclesiastical terms. The teachers and the youth of North Carolina today would revolt against this ancient tyranny in its latest form. A tyranny that commanded them to be dishonest with themselves is not their idea of the way of salvation. All honor to President Chase for speaking clearly and standing squarely to the issues raised. May we also salute with equal respect President William Louis Poteat, who, by his stand at Wake Forest, as been, for all our colleges, the buffer state against unreason, the shock absorber of intolerance, and the first line trench against bigotry lo! these many years. President Chase, confronted with the issue, went out to meet it - 'God helping him, he could do no other.' Then and there he revindicated his leadership and holds more tightly to his side the fighting loyalty of university men. Let us all close ranks solidly about him. He has raised the University standard to be seen of all our people. Freedom to think, freedom to speak, and freedom to print are the texture of that standard. That freedom the great Virginians led the way in writing into the first amendment to the constitutions of the United States. It was one of the conditions of North Carolina's ratification of the federal instrument. Upon this three-fold freedom Thomas Jefferson founded our oldest national political party. It is the cornerstone of the motto of the first American university to open its doors in the name of the people - in a little North Carolina village one hundred and thirty years ago. . . ."

About this Source:

Frank Porter Graham, a popular faculty member at the University of North Carolina, wrote this article for the UNC Alumni Review, published in April 1925. Graham has a couple of objectives in this piece. He is strongly opposed to restrictions from the legislature on what may or may not be taught in the classroom, particularly in the case of evolution, which he regards as a well-established fact. Graham also comes to the defense of Harry Woodburn Chase, who was at the time the President of the University of North Carolina, and who had been sharply criticized after speaking out in opposition to the Poole Bill.

Frank Porter Graham would later succeed Chase as President of the University of North Carolina, serving in that role for nearly twenty years, becoming one of the most beloved figures in UNC history.

About This Site | North Carolina Collection | Manuscripts Department | Wilson Library

UNC University Library