- Donald Roe
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, D. W. Griffith's innovative but racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation was still very popular. Many white Americans praised the film's sweeping condemnation of Reconstruction and its depiction of blacks as uncivilized, oversexed, bestial, and unrepentant in their lust for white women. Nonetheless, W. E. B. Du Bois and other black leaders supported black participation in the war, and African Americans fought for their country and, many hoped, to improve their status at home by showing their patriotism. After returning from Europe, however, they often found the racial environment unchanged. Jim Crow laws still existed in much of America, there had been a significant revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and the president, Woodrow Wilson, had shown little sympathy or sensitivity about racism even as Allied forces celebrated their victory.
The poisonous and volatile racial atmosphere ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present.