The fame of Thomas Dixon, Jr., as a writer rests on his novel The Clansman, the source for D. W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Raised by poor parents on a North Carolina farm, Dixon graduated from Wake Forest College in 1883 with high honors and then attended The Johns Hopkins University, where he became friends with Woodrow Wilson, later president of the United States. In 1884 Dixon left Johns Hopkins to make a career in the New York theater, but he quickly returned to North Carolina, where he was elected to the state legislature. He completed law school and began a brief career as an attorney in 1885, but the following year he married Harriet Bussey and was ordained as a Baptist minister, a career he pursued in North Carolina, Boston, and New York, while he lectured throughout the United States.
Another career change occurred in 1902, when he published his first novel, The Leopard’s Spots, which concerned the Reconstruction period in American history. Upset at what he considered to be an unfair portrait of southern life in the theatrical adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Dixon wrote a trilogy of novels about black-white relationships during Reconstruction. While he abhorred slavery, he was not convinced that the races were equal and feared that African Americans would be easily manipulated by white politicians. In The Clansman, the second novel, he glorified the Ku Klux Klan but also was aware that in the wrong hands the Klan could brutalize and oppress minorities. The Traitor, the third novel, depicts what happened to the Klan when it became oppressive; and The Black Hood, a sequel to The Traitor, was Dixon’s warning to people who attempt to...
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