Perhaps no movie of the Progressive era so captured the imagination of a generation, yet stirred such bitter controversy as D. W. Griffith’s epic portrayal of the Civil War and Reconstruction South, The Birth of a Nation (1915). Artistically inspired but factually flawed, the film laid bare the racial tensions of Wilsonian America and some ugly features of Progressivism at the height of its influence, including the then-dominant historical interpretation of the Reconstruction experience. Widely regarded as a motion picture classic, this landmark in movie history is also a revealing historical document that records the racism of many liberal reformers, historians included, who accepted the predominant racial assumptions of their era. At the same time, the battle that erupted over The Birth of a Nation documents a new spirit of African-American activism in challenging the longheld beliefs that had poisoned race relations since the Reconstruction settlement and the later establishment of segregation. Because it helped shape the values of a generation of moviegoers, it may be studied as not only a primary source and window into the mentality of Progressive America, but also as the source of tragically damaging stereotypes that harmed black Americans for many years to come. Its story reminds us that modern issues and problems cannot be well understood without knowledge of decisions and actions taken by men and women of earlier generations.