Birthof a Nation: The Suppression of a PeopleAmerica is believed to be founded as thefirst state founded on the notion that democracy is for all people, howeverthis is far from the truth. Not only did it take almost two hundredyears till the American government grants full opportunities to AfricanAmerican, they even accepted the slavery of these peoples for almost halfof that time. A republic government, such as the American government,is based on the idea that all people can have an equal represented fairlyand have an equal vote.
This is very hard to accomplish when groupsof people living within that republic are discriminated against. If society is not willing to see another group as equal they will not treattheir ideas as equals. The 1920’s are a time of great prosperityin America. The Wall Street was hitting new highs and it seemed everyonewas getting rich. Also the 20’s brings to mind radical social change. The great experiment of probation was being tested, and flappers advocatedwoman’s civil rights.Order now
Like other times in history when a nation goesthrough a period of great prosperity, or social changes there are conservativeresistance groups. During the early twentieth century this groupwas known as the Ku Klux Klan or KKK. They originated after the CivilWar to resist the new rights given to ex-slaves. They came back duringthe early part of the twentieth century to protest not only the new civilrights but also to voice their decent about the increasing immigrant problem. These new immigrants were coming from southeast Europe; they were oftenJewish or Catholic.
They also did not always fit right into Americansociety. They often brought, and kept, their own traditions, languages,and most importantly loyalties. The Ku Klux Klan offered a placefor the conservative minded to turn to, a reactionary organization forthe day. The people whom applied for membership were not of highsocial status.
Rather the Klan appealed to middle, and lower classAmericans. In a 1926 article Hiram Evans, ImperialWizard explains the purpose of the Ku Klux Klan. He first statesfor whom the Klan is organized. The only people entitled to membership,he states, are the “pioneers” that founded this country. It is hisbelief 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 schoolsstarted teaching some Darwinism, the new immigrants were infesting cities(Evans 318). Also “un-American” organizations are being formed tosupport these new liberal groups (Evans 318). “We must Americanizethe Americans” an immigrant said, this is what Evens wanted to prevent(Evans 319). The Nordic Americans were being forced out of theirjobs, not because they were not lazy, but because the new Americans workedfor a lower wage. This, the Klan said, lead to the “pioneer” reluctancetoward 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 KuKlux Klan is appealing to the average American. He says that thepeople who are in control now are to liberal to run the government andhave betrayed the American people (Evans 318). They think that intellectualleaders have the weakness of overanalyzing problems. They believewhat their leaders lacked and they had been emotion. Emotion, tothe Klan, was God inside them telling them what needs to be done (Evans321).
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 pullingfor the same side (Evans 319). Jobs were becoming scarcer, and civilrights, along with other liberal groups were gaining power. Manypeople 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’smembership jumped in the 1920’s. New propaganda, such as the motion picture”Birth of a Nation” inspired people to join reactionary groups, and partakein the growing fundamentalism, which could be found it the church of thetime. “The Birth of a Nation” is a monumentalpiece of American work.
Throughout history books and papers havebeen written to sway public opinion, but now Mr. Griffith is able to successfullyput his controversial work to motion picture. This movie, made availableto both the educated and uneducated, for one did not need high level readingskills to understand the silent flick, changed peoples opinions in a dramaticway. People could now spend only a few hours watching a film andstill 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 itsexcellent use of camera and acting, but also because people for years relatedto the story. After the movie came out some critics said it is aracist film. However, a majority of the public saw it as a greatfilm that just happened to tell the truth about the Civil War, or at leastin southerners’ minds (Greene 30). The film even got more leewayfrom censors; “pictures showing murder and robbery were routinely censored. Furthermore, whites were willing to suppress but law boxing pictures inwhich blacks beat whites, bit they would not stop the exhibition of TheBirth of a Nation” (Staiger 202).
Furthermore, when the movie wasfirst 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 andchildren from angry and crazy colored people. In the story any personof color is either a good idiotic servant, or a wild perverted man (Staiger197). Though racism was ramped after the Civil War, it was the racismof the early twentieth century. Evens writes in his article our nationwas split during the Great War. Some people pulling for the CentralPowers, and others the allies (Evans 319).
Movies such as Birth ofa Nation “harassed” people of color to join the war effort to prove theirloyalist 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 asit was in the 1910’s (Staiger 205). In W. Stephen Bush’s review ofthe 1915 film he praise the how Griffith represents the Klan. Hecalls the Klan the “defenders of ‘Aryan race supremacy'” (Bush 177).
He also praises the audience for their cheering of the Klan members chasingdown their victims (Bush 177). He acknowledges that the film stirsup strong feelings against the African Americans, yet does not condoneit for this. Ned McIntosh goes as far as to call thefilm “educational” (McIntosh 35). His point of view is not far thatradical as the average American’s view of the film. They are morewilling to accept a film that portrayed African Americans as savages, thansee what the African American community was doing around them.
McIntoshaccounts in the theater people throwing up their hands shouting, “Justiceis at hand” and “Retribution has arrived!” (McIntosh 35). This occurredin 1915, and sparked membership growth of the Klan, but now in the late1920’s what are the appealing factors that draw people to the Klan, andmovies like birth of a nation. African Americans seemed to provetheir loyalties to the nation in World War One. In the 20’s the Klanbranched out, or rekindled, other hatreds. They now not only persecutedAfrican Americans, but also immigrants, liberal thinkers, and communist. Across the entire country fundamental thinking was popularizing (Marsden118).
Evans’ article explains why he thinksthe 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 acton those emotions. The common person was finding his neighborhoodsgrowing in diversity, and their jobs being taken away by minorities, ofevery type. Their children were coming home from school with newliberal 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 moveto the left despite the Klan’s efforts.
In time civil rights werepast, and equal opportunity was more accessible. However the Klandoes remind of us these movements did not come with out resistance, andin the early twentieth century that resistance wore white cloths, burnedcrosses, and could have been your neighbor. This motion picture acted as a recruitingposture for the Ku Klux Klan (Wade146, 147). Local Imperial Wizardswould have their men get dressed up in their white sheets and “parade”in front of the movie houses.
This they hoped would be further inspirationfor 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 Klanwas a gang organization (Wade 147). Birth of a Nation is one of the many causesof the rebirth of the Klu Klux Klan of the early 1920’s and the hatredthat would continue for the next forty years. It is not only a causeof the racism, but also a symbol of it. The movie is a testamentto the prevailing racism in a so-called democratic society. Whileit should have been torn apart for it’s historical inaccuracies it wasonly praised for it truth telling.
Works CitedBush, W. Stephen. Focus on “TheBirth of a Nation”. Ed. Fred Silva.
Englewood Cliffs:Prentice-Hall, 1971. Evans, Hiram W. “The Klan’s Fightfor Americanism”. Great Issues in AmericanHistory. Eds.
Richard Hofstadterand Beatrice K. Hofstadter. New York: VintageBooks, 1982. Green, Ward. Focus on “The Birthof a Nation”.
Ed. Fred Silva. Englewood Cliffs:Prentice-Hall, 1971. Green, Ward.
“Review”. The Birthof 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. HarperCollins College Publishers, 1994McIntosh, Ned. “Review”.
Focus on”The Birth of a Nation”. Ed. Fred Silva. EnglewoodCliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Staiger, Janet.
“The Birth of aNation: Reconsidering Its Reception”. The Birth of aNation. Ed. Robert Lang.
New Brunswick:Rutgers University Press, 1993.