The Birth of a Nation: A Complicated Legacy | Birth of a Movement
In this video from INDEPENDENT LENS: "Birth of a Movement" students learn about the complex legacy of the controversial film The Birth of a Nation, as both a catalyst for African American activism and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
How did director D.W. Griffith defend the film The Birth of a Nation to government officials?
What is the “paradox” of Monroe Trotter’s attempts to ban the film?
How did William Monroe Trotter lay the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-60s?
How else did the film influence American society, for better or for worse?
Critical Thinking Questions
Why wouldn’t the Boston theater sell tickets to African Americans who wanted to see The Birth of a Nation?
One of the African American protesters of The Birth of a Nation commented that through opposition to the film “a nation would truly be reborn.” What did he mean by this? Why was The Birth of a Nation able to unify African American leaders in a way that other issues had not?
Why was censorship an ineffective strategy for those who opposed The Birth of a Nation?
This resource is designed for use in U.S. History classes.
Birth of a Movement explores many issues surrounding the history of racism in the United States, and the film and accompanying material may be offensive or traumatic to some students. Before teaching this material it is important to establish a classroom environment where these issues can be discussed respectfully. For additional guidance on teaching about race, racism, and other difficult topics, consult the “Let’s Talk” educator’s guide from Teaching Tolerance.
Before watching the video, students should be familiar with the plot of The Birth of a Nation (see “The Birth of a Nation: Film as Propaganda” in the “You might also like” section). Introduce the video by informing students that they will be learning about William Monroe Trotter, an African American newspaper editor who lead the charge against the film when it arrived in his hometown of Boston.
Post the discussion questions in the “Support Materials” section and ask students to take notes on their answers to prepare for a full class discussion. This may require multiple viewings of the video.
After watching the video, check for comprehension by using the discussion questions in the “Support Materials” section.
Assess student understanding by asking them to write a summary paragraph about the legacy of The Birth of a Nation. You may provide students with copies of the “A Complicated Legacy” handout in the “Student Handout” section to scaffold the writing process.