How One Boston Civil Rights Activist Tried To Ban 'The Birth Of A Nation'

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In 1915, Boston was ground zero in a fiery national debate over censorship, artistic freedom, racism and a nascent Civil Rights movement.

At the center of this story were two men who couldn't have been more different. One was Monroe Trotter, a black Harvard-educated newspaper editor and civil rights advocate who was the son of a black Civil War Union officer.

The other was D.W. Griffith, the white son of a confederate officer and a brilliant filmmaker. His popular but hugely controversial masterpiece was "The Birth of a Nation," a sweeping film about the Civil War and reconstruction that depicted freed slaves as reckless villains and knights of the Ku Klux Klan as heroic protectors of American values.

Monroe Trotter pushed hard to have the film censored here in Boston and across the nation. D.W. Griffith pushed back in the name of artistic freedom.


Dick Lehr, Boston University journalism professor and former investigative reporter for The Boston Globe. His latest book is, "The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War."


The ARTery: Dick Lehr: From ‘Whitey’ Bulger And ‘Black Mass’ To D.W. Griffith And ‘Birth Of A Nation’

  • "Trotter had founded The Guardian, a modest African-American newspaper in 1901, and in its inaugural issue, took Washington to task for having dinner with the then president, Theodore D. Roosevelt — something that Lehr poses as an event that most progressive minds embraced as an important step forward."

This segment aired on November 18, 2014.


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