When filmmaker D.W. Griffith released Birth of a Nation in 1915, the revolutionary film changed the way America thought about the movies and in many respects launched the modern film industry. But lesser known is the role Birth of a Nation had in the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.
Listen to the Birth of a Nation episode of Southern Hollows:
Now that you've heard the episode, take a closer look.
Birth of a Nation (theatrical release poster above) was America's first film blockbuster.
That's filmmaker D.W. Griffith on the left in the hat. He's talking to the actor Henry Walthall, who stars as Confederate Colonel Ben Cameron in the film. It's believed this photograph was snapped on the set of Birth of a Nation.
Scenes from the film (above) include the title card quoting President Wilson and the lynching of the character Gus.
Watch Birth of a Nation for yourself:
Again, a word of warning—it's unwatchably racist:
The Klan is revived.
And, under the cover of night, Memphis removes its monument honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Read about how the city's leadership unfolded a novel plan to remove the statue in The Atlantic.
Sound Design/Audio Engineer:
"Cold Sober" by Kevin MacLeod
Birth of a Nation. D.W, Griffith, Director. D.W. Griffith Corp., 1915.
Chalmers, David M. Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke University Press, 1981.
Fleming, Walter J. Ku Klux Klan: Its Origins, Growth and Disbandment. Neale Publishing.
"Floggers Linked to Killings in Lover's Lane." Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1940.
Cutlip, Scott M. "Letters to the Editor: Klan Made Potent Use of Birth of a Nation." New York Times, May 12, 1994.
Lehr, Dick. Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War. Public Affairs Press, 2014.
Lehr, Dick. Interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered, February 8, 2015.
McWhirter, Cameron. Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Henry Holt and Company, 2011.
Stokes, Melvyn. D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
"The Various Shady Lives of the Ku Klux Klan." TIME Magazine, April 9, 1965.
"William J. Simmons" The (New London, CT) Day, October 17, 1921.