Annual commemoration of Clarence Darrow

Judy Besser poses for a friend’s camera phone as she places a flower on the plaque naming the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge in Jackson Park after her great grandfather, Monday, March 13. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Snow and biting temperatures did not hinder the 60th annual commemoration ceremony for Clarence Darrow from taking place on Monday, March 13. The brief ceremony Monday morning included a wreath tossing east of the Darrow Bridge because the bridge is closed due to construction. This year marks 79 years since Darrow’s death, March 13, 1938.

Judy Besser, great granddaughter of Darrow, remembers stories from her parents about her great grandfather. His sense of humor is what he was known for in the family.

“He was a lot of fun,” Besser said. She added that she was proud to celebrating her great grandfather’s legacy.

The area is also where Darrow’s ashes were scattered after his death and also the place according to the legend where his spirit would return if it turned out communication was possible from the afterworld.

The Darrow bridge is in Jackson Park at the rear of the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.

A group of about 20 people gathered near the bridge to place flowers on the Darrow tribute marker. Guest speakers for the ceremony included Bernadine Dorhn activist, retired clinical law professor at Northwestern University and founder of the Children and Family Justice Center, Khadine Bennett, ACLU of Illinois associate director and Gene Winkler, adjunct faculty at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago (U. of C.).

John A. Farrell, who wrote a biography about Darrow, was the keynote speaker at the Darrow symposium. The title of the program was, “Robber Barons & Populists: Would Clarence Darrow recognize today’s Populism?”

Farrell is a Darrow scholar and since childhood has had an interest in Darrow’s life.

“When I was 12 years old somebody gave me a copy of a biography of Clarence Darrow written for teenagers, it persuaded me to work all my life for the principles that he stood for,” Farrell said. “His great devotion to individual liberty and great devotion to free speech to justice to civil rights and gender equality. There are very few cases that he fought for during his life that doesn’t have some great relevance today.”

Darrow is remembered for his role as an attorney in controversial cases such as the Scopes Monkey Trial, the Leopold and Loeb murder case and the pardoning of the Haymarket anarchists.

Dohrn has attended the ceremony for 30 years. Darrow’s legacy and diligence as a lawyer are remarkable she said.

“Originally it was his 24-hour closing defense in the case of Leopold in Loeb which everyone who lives on the South Side of Chicago knows about. His career and speaking out against issues that people were silent about he’s someone we should look up to today,” Dohrn said.

Anita Weinberg’s an attorney whose parents, Arthur and Lila Weinburg wrote several books on Darrow. Weinburg said Darrow was a major part of her life.

“I grew up being raised with Darrow basically almost like a grandfather who was no longer alive. What he stood for was important,” Weinberg said. “The issues that he cared about then are still important today whether it’s related to racial justice, housing discrimination, free speech, criminal justice reform, the importance of the role of labor unions, the issue of teaching evolution in the schools, the focus on capital punishment.”

Weinburg marks the day as one to raise awareness and spread knowledge about Darrow while also reflecting on his life.