BLACK VOICES

'A Public Menace': The Liberal Fight Over Banning 'The Birth Of A Nation'

03/31/2015 11:19 am ET | Updated Mar 31, 2015
Hulton Archive via Getty Images

In 1916 a 41-year-old man in Los Angeles published a short pamphlet called “The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America.” In passionate if somewhat pompous tones, the author described motion pictures as “the laboring man’s university,” but warned that their power to educate and instruct the nation could be “muzzled by a petty and narrow-minded censorship” that would create “a sugar-coated, virtuously-garbed version … in order to satisfy the public mentors of our so-called morals.” He quoted dozens of journalists and politicians who opposed censorship, cited Shakespeare and the Bible for good measure, and protested that “this new art was seized by the powers of intolerance as an excuse for an assault on our liberties.”

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