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American Racist

The Life and Films of Thomas Dixon

Anthony Slide

Publication Year: 2004

" Thomas Dixon has a notorious reputation as the writer of the source material for D.W. Griffith’s groundbreaking and controversial 1915 feature film The Birth of a Nation . Perhaps unfairly, Dixon has been branded an arch-conservative and a racist obsessed with what he viewed as “the Negro problem.” As American Racist makes clear, however, Dixon was a complex, multitalented individual who, as well as writing some of the most popular novels of the early twentieth century, was involved in the production of some eighteen films. Dixon used the motion picture as a propaganda tool for his often outrageous opinions on race, communism, socialism, and feminism. His most spectacular production, The Fall of a Nation (1916), argues for American preparedness in the face of war and boasts a musical score by Victor Herbert, making it the first American feature film to have an original score by a major composer. Like the majority of Dixon’s films, The Fall of a Nation has been lost, but had it survived, it might well have taken its place alongside The Birth of a Nation as a masterwork of silent film. Anthony Slide examines each of Dixon’s films and discusses the novels from which they were adapted. Slide chronicles Dixon’s transformation from a major supporter of the original Ku Klux Klan in his early novels to an ardent critic of the modern Klan in his last film, Nation Aflame. American Racist is the first book to discuss Dixon’s work outside of literature and provide a wide overview of the life and career of this highly controversial twentieth-century southern populist. Anthony Slide is the author of numerous books, including Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

I am grateful for individual help provided by Raymond Allen Cook, Robert Gitt, Evelyn Baldwin Griffith, Larry Karr, Emily Leider, Arthur Lennig, Howard Prouty, and, most of all, James Zebulon Wright, who offered open and frank comments on his distant cousin Thomas Dixon Jr. Both Arthur Lennig ...

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pp. 3-12

Although some of his novels still remain in print, Thomas Dixon is relatively unknown today. His fame, or more precisely infamy, rests on his being the man behind The Birth of a Nation, responsible for the original story and concept. As such, Dixon is regarded as a major representative of Southern racism. ...

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1. The Life Worth Living

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pp. 13-24

In 1905, Thomas Dixon Jr.1 published the autobiographical The Life Worth Living. “It is not often that we are given such an insight into a public man’s private life,” wrote a reviewer in Public Opinion (June 24, 1905), and yet the publication was hardly a surprise in that Dixon from early manhood was very much a public figure, ...

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2. Southern History on the Printed Page

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pp. 25-50

While on one of his lecture tours, Thomas Dixon witnessed George L. Aiken’s stage adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which had first been published in serial form in the antislavery newspaper the National Era, and in book form in 1852 as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly. ...

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3. Southern History on Stage

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pp. 51-70

“The book cries out for the stage—the Third avenue stage,” wrote Ward Clark about The Traitor in the Bookman (September 1907). “It is as full of situations, thrills, climaxes, ‘curtains,’ as a home of melodrama is of gallery gods.” By 1907 it was an irrelevant comment. Thomas Dixon was already fully aware ...

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4. Southern History on Film

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pp. 71-88

While there is no question that Thomas Dixon enthusiastically embraced the motion picture from about 1910 to 1915, there is no documentation as to when he first became interested in the new medium. Whether he saw a film while the art form was still in its infancy in the 1890s, ...

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5. The Fall of a Nation

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pp. 89-104

Thomas Dixon must have been very much cognizant of his contribution to the success of The Birth of a Nation. Without his storyline, there would have been no film. As a novelist, Dixon knew the value of the script as much as any modern screenwriter. At the same time, he was aware that it was Griffith ...

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6. The Foolish Virgin and the New Woman

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pp. 105-116

The Fall of a Nation provides some indication of its author’s views—though somewhat confused—on women. Despite Dixon’s claim that “there is a strong feminist element”1 in The Fall of a Nation, feminists basically are worthy only of ridicule there; women perhaps are too easily swayed to be allowed the right to vote. ...

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7. Dixon on Socialism

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pp. 117-126

As early as June 8, 1903, at a meeting of the American Booksellers Association in New York, Thomas Dixon warned that while the Negro was a menace to one element of America’s strength, socialism was an enemy to another element. “It attacks first the family, the stronghold of individuality, ...

Illustrations follow page 118

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8. The Red Scare

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pp. 127-142

The One Woman is generally described by critics as the first in a trilogy of novels dealing with socialism, followed by Comrades in 1909 and The Root of Evil in 1911. The veracity of the claim of the three novels to an antisocialist bias is somewhat in doubt. Comrades is more appropriately identified as a treatise against communism,...

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9. Miscegenation

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pp. 143-152

One twentieth-century novelist for whom Thomas Dixon had great admiration was Gertrude Atherton (1857–1947). The appeal might seem odd in that Atherton’s novels were noted for their eroticism, most notably her 1923 best-seller Black Oxen, and the writer was highly praised for her promotion of the New Woman. ...

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10. Journeyman Filmmaker

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pp. 153-166

The 1920s began not too auspiciously for Thomas Dixon with the bankruptcy on February 8, 1921, of the National Drama Corporation, with which Dixon had been closely associated since production of The Fall of a Nation. The corporation had controlled motion picture rights to various of Dixon’s novels ...

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11. Nation Aflame

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pp. 167-184

Thomas Dixon’s association with the motion picture effectively ended with the coming of sound. But there was one last foray into film, important not so much because of the production, which was relatively minor, but because it underlined Dixon’s determined opposition to the modern Ku Klux Klan. ...

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12. The Final Years

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pp. 185-194

The stock market crash of 1929, coupled with abortive efforts to develop a mountain retreat called Wildacres near Little Switzerland in western North Carolina, resulted in the loss not only of Dixon’s New York home on Riverside Drive (in 1934) but also of the bulk of his fortune. ...

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13. Raymond Rohauer and the Dixon Legacy

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pp. 195-208

Had he not been writing or producing films, Thomas Dixon would still have remained in public view, thanks entirely to the continued controversy generated by the many reissues of The Birth of a Nation. The first reissue came in 1921 and helped generate additional support for the Ku Klux Klan. ...


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pp. 209-212


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pp. 213-226


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pp. 227-232


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pp. 233-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171913
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123288

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2004