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.
Jump to: Sample Articles
- 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:
- "Ask Mayor To Stop 'Birth Of A Nation',"
The Sun (New York, NY),
March 31, 1915, Page 14, Image 14, col. 6.
- "Mayor Says Nix On The Film "Birth Of A Nation,"
The Day Book (Chicago, IL),
May 17, 1915, Noon Edition, Image 27, col. 1.
- "Birth Of A Nation Must Not Show In Denver,"
The Denver Star (Denver, CO),
December 4, 1915, Image 1, col. 3-4.
- "Ministerial Body Opposes Picture,"
The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA),
February 15, 1916, Image 6, col. 1.
- "Why Film Production Was Banned From State Of Ohio,"
The Denver Star (Denver, CO),
March 04, 1916, Image 1, col. 1-2.
- "Birth of a Nation Is A Production of Great Merit,"
The Ogden Standard (Ogden City, UT),
March 27, 1916, 4 p.m. City Edition, Page 5, Image 5, col. 1-3.
- "Birth of a Nation"" Stirs Audience to Wild Applause,"
The East Oregonian (Pendleton, OR),
April 28, 1916 Daily Evening Edition, Image 1, col. 2-3.
- "Readers Condemn "The Birth of a Nation,"
The Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.),
April 30, 1916, Image 17, col. 1.
- "Birth of a Nation Greatest of Films,"
The Hattiesburg News (Hattiesburg, MS),
May 12, 1916, Last and Home Edition, Page 6, Image 6, col. 1-2.
- "Big Film Shown,"
Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS),
June 16, 1917, Home Edition, Page 11, Image 11, col. 2.
- "Birth of a Nation Returns to Newberry,"
The Herald and News (Newberry, SC),
December 21, 1917, Page 6, Image 6, col. 1.