Disquieting History

Today Google commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Silent Parade – a protest held in New York City as a response to the East St. Louis Riots. The Silent Parade is regarded as the second instance of demonstrations in favor of civil rights. All of that information is available on the Wikipedia page though.

Today’s Google homepage picture.

The first instance of civil rights demonstrations, in something of an American fashion, took the form of protests over a controversial film. The Birth of a Nation was originally released in 1915 to significant controversy. The members of the fledgling NAACP’s Boston chapter went so far as to move to have the movie banned in several areas claiming that it increased racial tensions and incited violence. Though the group was unsuccessful, the film gave the NAACP a great deal of attention for the several months that it played across the United States. The film even had the distinction of being the first motion picture played in the White House.

Having only read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, it definitely seems like the activists of the day had a leg to stand on. Putting aside the use of blackface and fear-mongering, the film appeals to a culturally divided nation to stand united against racial integration and promotes a romanticized interpretation of the founding and operations of the Ku Klux Klan. The dramatization was a success: the KKK saw a massive resurgence in 1915 and attained peak membership of 4 million in the mid-1920s.

On a side note: It’s great that Google highlights less-glamorous historical events like the Silent Parade. When I started writing this post, the Wikipedia page for the Silent Parade was three short paragraphs. At time of publishing, more than 200 contributions or edits have been made by the Wiki community and the article is significantly longer (it even has sections!).

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