Thomas Dixon Jr. Papers, 1880s-1959

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Dixon, Thomas, Jr, 1864-1946
Thomas Dixon Jr. (1864-1946) was a white supremacist, novelist, playwright, and clergyman, originally from North Carolina. Dixon authored The Leopard's Spots (1902) and The Clansman (1905), which later was adapted into D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915). This collection contains literary drafts of his plays and novels, some correspondence, and other legal materials and photographs.
3.0 Linear Feet (4 gray hollinger boxes, 1 oversize folder, and 1 separately boxed volume.)
Materials in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Collection contains literary manuscript drafts, correspondence, family photographs, and printed materials and clippings. The bulk of the collection consists of Dixon's holograph and typescript drafts of scripts, novels, and corrections for titles he authored including The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation (includes draft play script and film's shot list), The One Woman (bound page proof), the Love Complex, God's Fool: A Drama of Negro Life in Modern Harlem, Shanghai Express, The Great American, The Man in Gray, A Man of the People: A Drama of Abraham Lincoln, The Sins of the Father (2 bound volumes, holograph drafts), The Sun Virgin (bound volume, holograph draft), and The Flaming Sword. The bulk of these works depict romanticized, racist, Lost Cause morality plays, with Dixon's texts advocating white supremacy, segregation, violence against Black people, misogyny (and opposing women's suffrage), and miscengeny. There are also some drafts by other writers, including Majorie Chase, W. Ward Marsh, and Ernest De Journo. Correspondence and legal papers in this collection tend to relate to his publications, including contracts and copyrights; includes a letter from Jerome Dowd reflecting on the Tulsa Race Riot. There are also some legal proceedings from a 1920s court case between Dixon (defendent) and the National Drama Corporation, and some letters discussing Dixon's poor health. The collection includes some materials relating to Dixon's involvement with the Mount Mitchell Association, a land development company in Western North Carolina; materials on spirituality from Dixon's widow, Madelyn Donovan Dixon; family photographs and portraits of Dixon, his first wife (Harriet Dixon), his second wife (Madelyn Donovan Dixon), and some of his children and other relatives, at times unidentified; and assorted printed materials, flyers, notes, and unidentified drafts.

Biographical / historical:

Thomas Dixon Jr. was a white supremacist, novelist, playwright, lawyer, and clergyman (1864-1946). Dixon authored The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden (1902) and The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), the latter of which was adapted into a play and the 1915 D.W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation.

Dixon was born in Shelby, N.C., and attended Wake Forest College and Johns Hopkins University (where he befriended Woodrow Wilson). He graduated from Greensboro Law School in 1885, and briefly served in the North Carolina General Assembly as a Democrat. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1886, and held appointments in Raleigh, Boston, and New York City. He left preaching in the late 1890s to become a lecturer on the Chautauqua circuit. He later became a novelist and playwright, seeking to tell the "true story" of Southern Reconstruction. His works glorified slavery and white supremacy, celebrated the Ku Klux Klan, and opposed miscengenation, socialism, and female suffrage.

Although his success as an author, playwright, and lecturer led to extreme wealth and popularity, Dixon lost much of his fortune to stock market crashes in the early 1900s, and to a land speculation venture called "Wildacres Retreat" which he attempted to fund in western North Carolina in the late 1920s. He was partially paralyzed following a cerebral hemorrhage in 1939, and suffered poor health for the remainder of his life.

He married his first wife, Harriet Dixon, in 1886, and the couple had three children: Thomas III, Louise, and Gordon. Following Harriet's death in 1937, Dixon married actress Madelyn Clare Donovan in 1939. She died in Raleigh, N.C., in 1975.

Acquisition information:
The Thomas Dixon Jr. were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library in different accessions. The earliest acquisition was a 1959 purchase of the manuscript volumes "The Sins of the Father" and "The Sun Virgin" from the Swann Galleries in New York City. The bulk of the papers were purchased in 1960 from a Mr. B. L. Alexander, in Raleigh. Fragmentary letters and clippings were added in the 1970s. All of these purchases were funded through the Flowers endowment.
Processing information:

Processed by RL staff, 1959-1975. Reprocessed and description updated by Meghan Lyon, October 2020.


Collection is arranged by formats: writings, correspondence, legal papers, photographs, and other materials.

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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Thomas Dixon Jr. Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.