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Thomas Dixon

AKA Thomas F. Dixon Jr.

Born: 11-Jan-1864
Birthplace: Shelby, NC
Died: 3-Apr-1946
Location of death: Raleigh, NC
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Sunset Cemetery, Shelby, NC

Gender: Male
Religion: Baptist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Bisexual [1]
Occupation: Author, Religion

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The Clansman

Now reviled as one of the most hateful racists of the 20th Century, Thomas Dixon was tremendously popular in his time as a minister and author. He was raised in the aftermath of the American Civil War, and one of his earliest childhood memories was of the Ku Klux Klan lynching a black man who had been accused of raping the widow of a Confederate soldier. Dixon's mother told him justice had been done, and for the rest of his life he never questioned the heroism of the Ku Klux Klan.

He was a college friend of future President Woodrow Wilson, but left school to pursue a career as an actor. Failing on stage, he became a lawyer, and failing at that he became a Baptist minister like his father. He gained fame preaching fire and brimstone first in Raleigh, later in Boston, and finally in New York City, where his sermons were popular enough to be collected in a book. Dixon abruptly quit the pulpit, embarking on a very successful career as a traveling lecturer, often speaking before crowds of thousands. Finally, he tried his hand at fiction.

His novels condemned the black race as inferior, frequently committing acts of violence against white women, which were then avenged by vigilante justice. Dixon denied that he hated blacks, and instead described his feelings for well-mannered Negroes as something akin to the affection he might feel for a dog. As offensive as these perspectives sound to modern audiences, Dixon's feelings of white supremacy were commonplace for his era -- and his books certainly found a large audience. Several film adaptations were made, most notably D. W. Griffith's Birth of A Nation, based on Dixon's The Clansman. A blatant glorification of the KKK, Birth of a Nation played almost a year in first-run theaters, and its engagements across the south were followed immediately by an upswing in lynchings, and the reorganization of the long-defunct KKK.

His other novels include Comrades, a condemnation of communism, and The Victim: A Romance of the Real Jefferson Davis, in which the former President of the Confederacy is shackled and grotesquely tortured by his cruel Union captors. Curiously, Dixon was a proponent of better treatment for animals, and he was opposed to capital punishment. He idolized the original KKK of the Reconstruction era, but spoke out against the reborn Klan of the 1920s, describing it as "a menace to American democracy".

As late as the middle 1930s, he was still a popular draw in public speaking engagements, frequently standing before a Confederate flag to denounce anti-lynching legislation. By the late 1930s, however, his income and popularity had dwindled to the point that he took work as a court clerk in Raleigh, NC.

[1] In a well-researched 2004 biography of Dixon, historian Anthony Slide revealed that Dixon had confided to a friend that his first sexual experience was with his best friend from childhood, a young black man.

Father: Thomas Dixon, Sr. (Baptist minister)
Mother: Amanda Elvira McAfee Dixon
Brother: Clarence
Sister: Delia
Sister: Addie May
Brother: Frank
Boyfriend: "Dick" (childhood friend)
Girlfriend: Mollie Durham (b. 1862, dated 1879-84)
Wife: Harriet Bussey (dated 1885-86, m. 1886, d. 1937)
Son: Thomas Dixon III
Daughter: Louise Dixon
Son: Gordon Dixon
Wife: Madeline Donovan Clare (actress, b. 1894, m. 1939, d. 1975)

    High School: Shelby Academy (1879)
MA, Wake Forest University (1883)
    University: Johns Hopkins University (attended 1883-84)
    University: Frobisher's School of Drama (attended 1884)
    Law School: Dick and Dillard Law School, Greensboro, NC

    English Ancestry Paternal
    French Ancestry Paternal
    German Ancestry Paternal

Author of books:
Living Problems in Religion and Social Science (1889)
What Is Religion? An Outline of Vital Ritualism (1891)
Dixon on Ingersoll: Ten Discourses Delivered in Association Hall (1892)
The Failure of Protestantism in New York and Its Causes (1896)
Dixon's Sermons: Delivered in the Grand Opera House, New York, 1898-1899 (1899)
The Leopard's Spots (1902)
The One Woman (1903)
The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905)
The Life Worth Living (1905)
The Traitor (1907)
Comrades (1909)
The Root of Evil (1911)
The Southerner (1913)
The Victim: A Romance of the Real Jefferson Davis (1914)
The Foolish Virgin (1915)
Fall of a Nation (1916)
The Way of a Man (1918)
A Man of the People (1920)
The Man in Gray (1921)
The Flaming Sword (1939)

Wrote plays:
The Sins of the Father (1910)
The Hope of the World (1920)

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