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Topics in Chronicling America - Popular Reactions to The Birth of a Nation

When D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation premiered in 1915, audiences divided over its racial content. Based on the novel The Clansman, the NAACP moved to ban the movie, and one reader wrote to a newspaper that the film was so “hideously insidious…that if any nation except the Negroes were made the victim of their reflections, the house which dared to present the film would be dynamited.” However, other viewers proclaimed it a truthful masterpiece, and the film broke box office records. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.


Picture of Clansmen on horses

Jump to: Sample Articles

Important Dates:

  • March 31, 1915. New Yorkers ask Mayor to stop screening of film.
  • May 17, 1915. Pressure from black voters causes the Mayor of Chicago to ban screenings of the film.
  • December 4, 1915. An African American newspaper in Denver argues against film coming to town.
  • February 15, 1916. Group of ministers in Iowa passes resolution denouncing film. March 4, 1916 Birth of a Nation banned in Ohio.
  • March 27, 1916. Utah newspaper praises film, writing it has depicted “authentic history… without fear or favor.”
  • April 28, 1916. Oregon newspaper declares the film history- making in itself and praises its depiction of “white-robed saviours of a race.”
  • April 30, 1916. D.C. columnist defends the film against her readers who have condemned it.
  • May 12, 1916. Mississippi newspaper hails film as masterpiece and criticizes scenes depicting black education as being concessions for Northern audiences.
  • June 16, 1917. After the state of Kansas loses its case to stop showing of the film, it plays in the state to little reaction.
  • December 21, 1917. Given its popularity, the film returns to South Carolina.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] Birth of a Nation, Griffith, riot.
  • It is important to use a specific state if looking for localized reactions.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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  June 18, 2018
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