Biography of Controversial Writer Thomas Dixon Part 3

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.

On Oct. 6, 1886, he was ordained in Greensboro, N.C. Dynamic in the pulpit, he was elevated in position rather quickly to Raleigh, Boston, and then the 23rd Street Baptist Church in New York City. He was excited by the challenge of New York, which he called "one of the most godless cities in America," and appalled by the smallness of his congregation. It was not small for long. A drama critic from a metropolitan daily wrote a piece about the fearless, extraordinary preacher which resulted in the church's not being able to hold all who wanted to attend. Despite his success, Dixon wanted to break away from the restrictions of a denominational church, and in 1899 he resigned from the church in search of a "free" pulpit. In an interview with The New York Times, his concluding quote was, "I believe it is more important to lift many men out of the ditch than to spend my time making a few men Baptists."

He took to the lecture circuit, which for a man of his stature was very lucrative. He boldly criticized city government and openly condemned Tammany Hall. In time he joined the popular Chautauqua program and traveled all over the country. The money poured in. The Dixons had a fashionable residence in New York City, a mansion in the country, horses, yachts.

Some of the wealth came from lecturing, some from writing, which Dixon took up seriously in 1901, when he became infuriated by the continuing popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Strongly compelled to tell what he felt was the real story of slavery, he launched a spectacular writing career at age 38. In 1902 The Leopard's Spots, his first published book, was both praised and vilified, and it brought him considerable royalties. Then came The Clansman, another financial smash.

In his preface to the book, Dixon explained: "The Clansman develops the true story of the 'Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy' which overturned the Reconstruction regime.... How the young South, led by the reincarnated souls of the Clansmen of Old Scotland, went forth... and saved the life of a people, forms one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of the Aryan race." Dixon portrayed the Klan fulfilling its mission of salvation as it rampaged through the countryside, carrying out its righteous revenge after the merciless slaying of a young white woman by a brutal Negro.

Despite degrading Negroes in writing, Dixon insisted that he didn't hate them but was merely being realistic. Blacks, in his opinion, didn't have the inherent qualities--especially the mental capacity--to be equal to whites. If ever integration were tried, said Dixon, it would lead to bloodshed and violence. And miscegenation must never be allowed.

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