Biography of Controversial Writer Thomas Dixon Part 1

About the controversial writer Thomas Dixon, history and biography of the author of Birth of the Nation and other racist works.


THOMAS DIXON (1864-1946). Clergyman and writer.

When Thomas Dixon died on Apr. 3, 1946, in Raleigh, N.C., his obituary was carried in national news magazines. Emphasized was the fact that he had authored the book on which David Wark Griffith based the highly controversial but staggeringly successful motion picture The Birth of a Nation. D. W. Griffith is well remembered for his creative techniques, which admittedly changed the course of the American motion picture as an art form. But practically forgotten is not only the book The Clansman, which at the time of publication recorded sales beyond a million copies, but even more so its creator, Thomas Dixon.

Dixon wrote 20 books, almost all on controversial subjects, but they were so widely read that they made him wealthy. Extant copies of his books probably are gathering attic dust or are slumbering on library shelves and haven't been checked out in decades. This man who exploited such themes as the superiority of whites over blacks and of men over women, and who wrote of the evils of bolshevism and communism, didn't dedicate his energies to writing alone. He was a man of tremendous drive, determination, and talent, and during his long life he embarked on many careers.

Although his father, Thomas Dixon, Sr., had been a well-to-do planter and Baptist minister when he married his 13-year-old bride, Amanda, he was practically penniless when his second son, Thomas Dixon, Jr., was born in a farmhouse near Shelby, N.C. The Civil War was coming to an end. The senior Dixon, who believed in the preservation of the Union, was embarrassed about being the owner of 32 slaves, whom his wife had inherited from her father. Dixon was glad to free them, since he was too poor to care adequately for even his immediate family.

The Dixons had five children-Clarence, Thomas, Frank, Delia, and Addie May. Poverty and the tragedy of the reconstruction period did not alter the father's determination that his children should be educated, no matter how great the sacrifice. He wanted his sons to enter the ministry. They all did.

For a time, it seemed that formal schooling would be impossible for Thomas. He was needed to help augment the family income. At the age of 10 he was a full-time plowboy, rising before dawn and returning home after dark, every muscle in his child's body aching--a plight that caused him to become morose and resentful. As a man he said, "Unremitting farm labor dehumanizes mankind." A marked change in his attitude came about when his brother Frank, who by then attended Wake Forest College, a Baptist institution some 200 mi. from where they lived, brought home a companion named Dick Vann. Although he had lost both hands while feeding a cane mill as a child, Dick had an undaunted zest for life and learning. Tom credited his exposure to Dick Vann with helping him through a crucial crisis of spirit.

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