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First of all, James Agee must have been crazy to write those words.   Even
ignoring the historical inaccuracies about the "misbehavior" of the
Reconstruction governments (including the portrayal of the Lt. Gov. of
South Carolina) the scene where the bug-eyed black guy (a white actor in
blackface because Griffith couldn't risk having a REAL black man attempt to
ravish Lillian Gish) causes the "sweet little white girl" to commit suicide
rather than be dishonored by him is an incredible atrocity feeding the
racist images of blacks that pervaded white society in "Progressive Era"
America. But there's much more --- the KKK with its hoods is the HERO of
the film --- how is that "pro-Negro"?   the whole thrust of the film with
the title BIrth of a Nation starts with the Civil War -- making sure we
were a united nation -- and the redemption by white southerners from the
horrors of black Reconstruction (as stereotyped in the film) with the final
scene the birth of the (WHITE) nation when the KKK makes sure that all the
blacks coming out of their shacks on election day (ELECTION DAY!!) just see
the dangerous white hooded guys and go back into their shacks -- KNOWING

I taught a course on Comparative Race Relations (comparing the US to South
AFrica) for a bunch of years (first time about 25 years ago).  First thing
we did to teach the students how BAD things were for African Americans in
the "Progressive Era" was to have them watch the SECOND half of BIRTH OF A
NATION -- But we made sure to contextualize it -- identify it as
unabashedly racist and ask the students to imagine that this was the IMAGE
that most whites --- not necessarilly white southerners but white
northerners who knew virtually no blacks --- had.

I think that's how one uses racist images and literature -- you put it in
context.   Even then, it's tough.  We had a class on Minstrelcey and some
of the cartoons that went with the reading were so offensive the black
students in the class were really wounded --- (they told us after) --- we
had tried to warn students in advance but there's no question that this was
a tough one ... I think we did okay with Birth of a Nation (none of the
black students complained about showing it while being quite forceful about
the images from minstrel shows).

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