of a Nation: The Suppression of a People
America is believed to be founded as the
first state founded on the notion that democracy is for all people, however
this is far from the truth. Not only did it take almost two hundred
years till the American government grants full opportunities to African
American, they even accepted the slavery of these peoples for almost half
of that time. A republic government, such as the American government,
is based on the idea that all people can have an equal represented fairly
and have an equal vote. This is very hard to accomplish when groups
of people living within that republic are discriminated against.
If society is not willing to see another group as equal they will not treat
their ideas as equals.
The 1920’s are a time of great prosperity
in America. The Wall Street was hitting new highs and it seemed everyone
was getting rich. Also the 20’s brings to mind radical social change.
The great experiment of probation was being tested, and flappers advocated
woman’s civil rights. Like other times in history when a nation goes
through a period of great prosperity, or social changes there are conservative
resistance groups. During the early twentieth century this group
was known as the Ku Klux Klan or KKK. They originated after the Civil
War to resist the new rights given to ex-slaves. They came back during
the early part of the twentieth century to protest not only the new civil
rights but also to voice their decent about the increasing immigrant problem.
These new immigrants were coming from southeast Europe; they were often
Jewish or Catholic. They also did not always fit right into American
society. They often brought, and kept, their own traditions, languages,
and most importantly loyalties. The Ku Klux Klan offered a place
for the conservative minded to turn to, a reactionary organization for
the day. The people whom applied for membership were not of high
social status. Rather the Klan appealed to middle, and lower class
In a 1926 article Hiram Evans, Imperial
Wizard explains the purpose of the Ku Klux Klan. He first states
for whom the Klan is organized. The only people entitled to membership,
he states, are the “pioneers” that founded this country. It is his
belief that it was the WASP that brought the world into its modern age,
and now his people were being discriminated against. (Evans 318)
Then Evans goes on to explain how his people are being oppressed.
The last twenty years there was great social reform, during which schools
started teaching some Darwinism, the new immigrants were infesting cities
(Evans 318). Also “un-American” organizations are being formed to
support these new liberal groups (Evans 318). “We must Americanize
the Americans” an immigrant said, this is what Evens wanted to prevent
(Evans 319). The Nordic Americans were being forced out of their
jobs, not because they were not lazy, but because the new Americans worked
for a lower wage. This, the Klan said, lead to the “pioneer” reluctance
toward bringing more children into the world. This is, therefore,
the first step in the reduction of the true American.
Evans then goes on to explain why the Ku
Klux Klan is appealing to the average American. He says that the
people who are in control now are to liberal to run the government and
have betrayed the American people (Evans 318). They think that intellectual
leaders have the weakness of overanalyzing problems. They believe
what their leaders lacked and they had been emotion. Emotion, to
the Klan, was God inside them telling them what needs to be done (Evans
321). In the 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan’s membership soared to new highs.
This is because of their emotional appeal to the average American.
The country just fought a war where not all of its citizens were even pulling
for the same side (Evans 319). Jobs were becoming scarcer, and civil
rights, along with other liberal groups were gaining power. Many
people saw this all as a threat gains their decade or so of prosperity.
To lash out at their declining values they turned to the Klan. The Klan’s
membership jumped in the 1920’s. New propaganda, such as the motion picture
“Birth of a Nation” inspired people to join reactionary groups, and partake
in the growing fundamentalism, which could be found it the church of the
“The Birth of a Nation” is a monumental
piece of American work. Throughout history books and papers have
been written to sway public opinion, but now Mr. Griffith is able to successfully
put his controversial work to motion picture. This movie, made available
to both the educated and uneducated, for one did not need high level reading
skills to understand the silent flick, changed peoples opinions in a dramatic
way. People could now spend only a few hours watching a film and
still receive all the information from a proactive novel of the day.
Based off of the story “The Clansman” D.W.
Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” was a huge success not only for its
excellent use of camera and acting, but also because people for years related
to the story. After the movie came out some critics said it is a
racist film. However, a majority of the public saw it as a great
film that just happened to tell the truth about the Civil War, or at least
in southerners’ minds (Greene 30). The film even got more leeway
from censors; “pictures showing murder and robbery were routinely censored.
Furthermore, whites were willing to suppress but law boxing pictures in
which blacks beat whites, bit they would not stop the exhibition of The
Birth of a Nation” (Staiger 202). Furthermore, when the movie was
first released, there was a growth in the Klan’s membership (Staiger 202).
In the movie the Ku Klux Klan is a force that rescues helpless women and
children from angry and crazy colored people. In the story any person
of color is either a good idiotic servant, or a wild perverted man (Staiger
197). Though racism was ramped after the Civil War, it was the racism
of the early twentieth century. Evens writes in his article our nation
was split during the Great War. Some people pulling for the Central
Powers, and others the allies (Evans 319). Movies such as Birth of
a Nation “harassed” people of color to join the war effort to prove their
loyalist to America (Staiger 205).
Though Birth of a Nation was released 1915,
the populations response to the film would be the same in the 1920’s as
it was in the 1910’s (Staiger 205). In W.Stephen Bush’s review of
the 1915 film he praise the how Griffith represents the Klan. He
calls the Klan the “defenders of ‘Aryan race supremacy'” (Bush 177).
He also praises the audience for their cheering of the Klan members chasing
down their victims (Bush 177). He acknowledges that the film stirs
up strong feelings against the African Americans, yet does not condone
it for this.
Ned McIntosh goes as far as to call the
film “educational” (McIntosh 35). His point of view is not far that
radical as the average American’s view of the film. They are more
willing to accept a film that portrayed African Americans as savages, than
see what the African American community was doing around them. McIntosh
accounts in the theater people throwing up their hands shouting, “Justice
is at hand” and “Retribution has arrived!” (McIntosh 35). This occurred
in 1915, and sparked membership growth of the Klan, but now in the late
1920’s what are the appealing factors that draw people to the Klan, and
movies like birth of a nation. African Americans seemed to prove
their loyalties to the nation in World War One. In the 20’s the Klan
branched out, or rekindled, other hatreds. They now not only persecuted
African Americans, but also immigrants, liberal thinkers, and communist.
Across the entire country fundamental thinking was popularizing (Marsden
Evans’ article explains why he thinks
the Ku Klux Klan’s membership is growing, and for the most part he is right.
He appeals to the emotion of the people, and people were willing to act
on those emotions. The common person was finding his neighborhoods
growing in diversity, and their jobs being taken away by minorities, of
every type. Their children were coming home from school with new
liberal ideas, and their culture was slipping through their fingertips.
The Klan offered hope for their future and as a strong force not only politically,
but also could scare people into submission. The county did move
to the left despite the Klan’s efforts. In time civil rights were
past, and equal opportunity was more accessible. However the Klan
does remind of us these movements did not come with out resistance, and
in the early twentieth century that resistance wore white cloths, burned
crosses, and could have been your neighbor.
This motion picture acted as a recruiting
posture for the Ku Klux Klan (Wade146, 147). Local Imperial Wizards
would have their men get dressed up in their white sheets and “parade”
in front of the movie houses. This they hoped would be further inspiration
for people not only to join the Klan, but also an opportunity to ask questions.
The Klan’s presents would further delude people’s notion that the Klan
was a gang organization (Wade 147).
Birth of a Nation is one of the many causes
of the rebirth of the Klu Klux Klan of the early 1920’s and the hatred
that would continue for the next forty years. It is not only a cause
of the racism, but also a symbol of it. The movie is a testament
to the prevailing racism in a so-called democratic society. While
it should have been torn apart for it’s historical inaccuracies it was
only praised for it truth telling.
Bush, W. Stephen. Focus on “The
Birth of a Nation”. Ed. Fred Silva. Englewood Cliffs:
Evans, Hiram W. “The Klan’s Fight
for Americanism”. Great Issues in American
History. Eds. Richard Hofstadter
and Beatrice K. Hofstadter. New York: Vintage
Green, Ward. Focus on “The Birth
of a Nation”. Ed. Fred Silva. Englewood Cliffs:
Green, Ward. “Review”. The Birth
of a Nation. Ed. Robert Lang. New Brunswick:
Rutgers University Press, 1993.
Marsden, George. “Fundamentalism,
and the Cultural Crisis”. Retracing the Past. Eds.
Gary Nash and Ronald Schultz. Harper
Collins College Publishers, 1994
McIntosh, Ned. “Review”. Focus on
“The Birth of a Nation”. Ed. Fred Silva. Englewood
Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Staiger, Janet. “The Birth of a
Nation: Reconsidering Its Reception”. The Birth of a
Nation. Ed. Robert Lang. New Brunswick:
Rutgers University Press, 1993.