Clarence Darrow History Fair Award PDF Print E-mail

About the Clarence Darrow History Fair Award

The Clarence Darrow History Fair Award is presented annually to recognize a History Fair project that best exemplifies the ideals for which Darrow stood. Said biographer Lila Weinberg, “He was an inveterate fighter for the right to justice. He pleaded always for racial understanding, for compassion, for tolerance, for separation of church and state. He defended the weak and the strong, but never the strong against the weak.” His courtroom speeches were best-selling literature in their time, and remain an exhilarating testament to the power of dramatizing injustice through narrative, and speaking truth to power by using words that come from the heart as well as from the mind.


The winning essay may be recognized for any (or all) of the following criteria:

  1. Its focus on one or more of the topics Darrow championed, for example: civil liberties; the death penalty; racial and gender equality; labor rights; the separation of church and state.
  1. Its focus on Darrow himself, delving into his life and career or the significance of the cases he argued
  1. Its use of the kinds of creative rhetorical strategies and literary style that made Darrow’s arguments so uniquely effective, i.e. going beyond just stating the facts within a standard expository structure and using tools such as voice and storytelling to bring the argument to life.

About Clarence Darrow

clarence darrow

While Darrow was known as the outstanding criminal attorney of his day, upon his death in 1938, the Chicago Daily News said of him, “in the pure sense of the word, Darrow was not a criminal lawyer. He was rather a practicing philosopher, a student of society, of crime, its causes and cures.”

Examples of his outstanding trials include:

The 1895 trial of Eugene Victor Debs against the American Railway Union, where he defended labor’s rights.

He argued for First Amendment Rights in his 1920 defense of twenty Communists accused of conspiring to overthrow the United States government.

In his 1924 Loeb & Leopold trial summation where two teen‑age boys were tried for kidnapping and murder, Darrow held out against capital punishment.

In the Scopes trial in Dayton, Ohio (1925) he argued “yes” against William Jennings Bryan whether evolution should be taught in the public schools.

In the 1926 Sweet case in Detroit, Michigan, he addressed social tensions when two black men were charged with murder after a crowd of white men attacked their home.

Darrow was the defender of the underdog, of the despised, the oppressed, the inarticulate. As he often emphasized, he hated the sin, never the sinner.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said of him: “Darrow used the law to promote social justice as he saw it. Yet the law and the lawyers were to him reactionary forces.… Great reforms came not from within the law but from without. It was not the judges and barristers who made the significant advances toward social justice. They were made in conventions of the people and in legislative halls. Yet Darrow, working through the law, brought prestige and honor to it during a long era of intolerance.”

About the Sponsor

The award is sponsored by the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee to honor and commemorate the life, the work, the achievements, the tradition, the values, and the philosophy of famed Chicago lawyer Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938). The Committee seeks to educate the public regarding Mr. Darrow’s life, career, achievements, and values through lectures and other media. Every year on March 13, the anniversary of Darrow’s death, the Committee holds a ceremony at the Clarence Darrow Bridge in Chicago’s Jackson Park, the site where his ashes were strewn, followed by a lecture or other presentation on a topic related to his legacy.


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