February 8, 1915: Birth of a Nation Debuts in Los Angeles

The film Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece, was  controversial at its release and remains so.  At three hours the film was a pioneering effort using then cutting age technology to produce a movie that stunned viewers by its cinematic quality.  Its viewers had seen nothing like it in film entertainment before.  At the same time the film, based on the pro-Ku Klux Klan novel the Clansman by Thomas Dixon, a friend of President Woodrow Wilson, drew outrage from Grand Army of the Republic Union Veterans and black groups with its depiction of the Klan as noble heroes attempting to fight against evil Unionists and its depiction of blacks as little better than beasts who walked erect.  Race riots broke out in cities where the film was shown.  President Wilson viewed the film in the White House and was reported to have said, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true”.  The White House denied the remark, and in the wake of continuing protests, Wilson eventually condemned the “unfortunate production”.  The film used quotes from Wilson’s scholarly works to buttress its negative depiction of Reconstruction and its positive depiction of the Klan.  Considering the fact that Wilson imposed segregation on the Civil Service it is difficult to discern what he found to be “unfortunate” about the film.

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Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on February 8, 1915: Birth of a Nation Debuts in Los Angeles  
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Justice Clarence Thomas on Abraham Lincoln

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Abraham Lincoln.  One of the more interesting figures in contemporary American public life Thomas brings a strong sense of history, both his history and the nation’s history, in regard to the application of the Constitution to the cases that come before the Court.

Thomas spent his childhood in a place and time in which businesses and government services were legally segregated. In his 2007 memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” he described his experience growing up as an African-American Catholic in Georgia during the Jim Crow era. “I was a two-fer for the Klan,” he said.

Thomas moved north from Georgia and graduated from Yale Law School in 1974. He went on to a successful judicial career that took him all the way to the Supreme Court. Thomas’ views on constitutional issues usually put him on the conservative side of the court, where he has penned opinions intended to rein in affirmative-action laws and overhaul a section of the Civil Rights Act that requires states with histories of discrimination to seek approval from the federal government before altering voting policies.

Throughout his career, Thomas said, he has experienced more instances of discrimination and poor treatment in the North than the South.

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated,” Thomas said. “The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

As one of six Catholics on the court, Thomas also addressed the role his faith plays in his work as a justice.

“I quite frankly don’t know how you do these hard jobs without some faith. I don’t know. Other people can come to you and explain it to you. I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t know how an oath becomes meaningful unless you have faith. Because at the end you say, ‘So help me God.’ And a promise to God is different from a promise to anyone else.”

Go here to read the rest.  Thomas was raised by his cantankerous maternal grandfather Myers Anderson, a man with little education but who through hard work built a thriving business selling fuel oil and ice.  He worked Clarence and his brother liked rented mules, and imprinted on them the value of hard work, promising them that if they worked hard enough, and got an education, they could be anything they wanted to be, having nothing but scorn for the idea that white racism could stop them.  Thomas has said simply that his grandfather is the greatest man he has ever known.

In the case of Grutter v. Bollinger the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the use of race as a factor in law school admissions.  Justice Thomas wrote a ringing dissent in which he explained why the Court was wrong: (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Justice Clarence Thomas on Abraham Lincoln  
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Lincoln and Race

Modern detractors of Lincoln often attempt to depict him as a racist.  This of course is certainly at odds with the view of Lincoln’s detractors during his life on the question of race, who usually attacked him as a promoter of negro equality.  This was the tactic used by Stephen A. Douglas during the 1858 Senate campaign.  Douglas constantly played the race card, realizing that most Illinois voters, all white of course, were repulsed at the idea of racial equality between whites and blacks.  While remaining staunch in his opposition to slavery, Lincoln did make defensive statements that have served as ammunition for those today who accuse him of racism.  This is probably the strongest quote in the arsenal of the critics:

I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” (more…)

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 6:43 am  Comments (3)  
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