Racial Illiteracy and Gone with the Wind

The Harris poll asked 2500 Americans what their favorite books were, and got this list of the top ten most popular books in the United States:

  1. The Bible
  2. Gone With the Wind
  3. Lord of the Rings
  4. Harry Potter
  5. The Stand
  6. The Da Vinci Code
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird
  8. Angels and Demons
  9. Atlas Shrugged
  10. Catcher in the Rye

As expected, the Bible was number one, but look at number two, Gone with the Wind. The movie made from this much-read novel (photo credit) is one of the most watched movies of all time, and probably is showing somewhere on the planet every moment of every day. This popularity of novel and movie helps to explain the extreme racial illiteracy that exists in the United States. This is one of the most racially stereotyped and openly racist novels of all time, one that with the associated movie has “educated” so many white Americans into foolish, wrongheaded, and blatantly racist ideas about both slavery and African Americans.

According to the Reuters article both:

Whites and Hispanics picked Gone With the Wind as their second-favorite book after the Bible, while African-Americans preferred Angels and Demons.

There was also variation by region:

Picks for second-favorite book also varied according to region. Gone With the Wind was number two in the southern and midwestern United States while easterners chose The Lord of the Rings and westerners opted for The Stand.

The movie Gone with the Wind, one of the favorite movies of all time, followed the extreme and vicious Klan-praising movie, Birth of a Nation, by just 24 years and carried much of the same racist ideology. The author of the novel (The Clansman, 1905) on which Birth of a Nation was based, Thomas Dixon, wrote a letter of great praise to Margaret Mitchell about how great Gone with the Wind was:

“the greatest story of the South ever put down on paper, you have given the world THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL.”

Mitchell responded with great praise for Dixon’s extremist Klan-praising books. The comments are quoted in a fine scholarly book Screen Saviors by the savvy movie analysts, Hernan Vera and Andrew Gordon, who add this:

“In truth, the film Gone with the Wind is Birth of a Nation without the bed sheets and hoods of the Klan.”

They also point out that Gone with the Wind portrays an antebellum South transforming into a new industrial South, but indeed a mythical antebellum South of romantic “happiness and wholeness” and one with “antiseptic slavery without whips, chains, or rape.” And

“blacks appear mostly as slaves: loyal servants like Prissy . . . , or clownish servants. Whites are seen as worthy of the subservience, loyalty, and love of faithful servants.“

The extremely dehumanizing, exploitative, and bloody reality of slavery, with its great violence against (including much rape of black women) enslaved African Americans, is missing from the novel and the movie.

No wonder most white Americans (and many others) are so naïve about what slavery was and are in general so poorly informed about the country’s racial history. Indeed, I have given many lectures at our colleges and universities across the country, and not one person yet has known who Ann Dandridge was when I asked. Guess………. She was the black half-sister of Martha Dandridge Washington, the child of rape by Martha’s powerful father, John Dandridge. This account of Ann Dandridge probably tells you more that is accurate about the character of US slavery than the whole movie of Gone with the Wind.

Indeed, many whites and others who do not know of Ann Dandridge, I hazard the guess, do indeed think they know a great deal about the (heroic?) whites and (faithfully servile?) blacks who lived in the antebellum South during slavery from the “wonderful” movie or book, Gone with the Wind. But they are wrong.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    *on my knees in the praying position with my hands together high in the air* No, no, no, please god no! Okay, will cut the rest of that thought short here.

    I just have to say I have never seen that movie— gee I wonder why (although I’m sure many others have seen it), and even coming from the “G. W” state (haha, just made a funny), I didn’t know who she was. You see, “Washingtonians” weren’t a part of, or responsible for slavery (and thus, apparently need not know these little details about the guy and his family on the flag)…the dialectical natures are truly bizarre and intense at times.

    And further, I had no idea Martha Washington had a special cake recipe until I came down here and was greeted with that cake by a kind, and much older friend, who does honestly associate with, I think, the type of Southern romantic notion described above—I have no question her intentions were good and she meant well in her own way, and perhaps felt this was an appropriate way to welcome a Washingtonian. These types of situations are very difficult as it does include slavery, but goes into colonization, genocide (or eugenics to put it a bit more politely in today’s language–ongoing), etc. (we are terribly deprived of an honest history) Let’s celebrate!!! :`(

  2. Justin

    I totally agree. I’m watching it now for the first time because of the overwhelming, pretentious hype that it has by older, creative figures in the South, which is where I live. I cannot stomach this movie, and I am so confused as to why it is revered as a literary triumph and followed with the American ‘standard’ of cinematography. I feel as if the parents need to instill some sort of humble virtue to Scarlett and allow their ‘servants’ to go home and take care of their own children. The heroine is delusional and self-entitled… is that why people love her?? This may be whimsical and romantic but all I can think of are about the slaves and how none of them even had a chance for a story fractionally as sweet.


  1. Gone with the Wind « Spinnin’ a yarn
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  3. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind | Josephine's Readers Advisory

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