Free State of Jones Capsizes Lost Cause Myths

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-29 00:30Z by Steven

Free State of Jones Capsizes Lost Cause Myths

Process: A Blog For American History
2016-07-12

Matthew E. Stanley, Assistant Professor of History
Albany State University, Albany, Georgia

Reconstruction is perhaps the least understood period in American history, a distinction that has been both perpetuated by and reflected in popular culture since the late nineteenth century. Films in particular have gone from presenting the era through the Dunning lens of rank white supremacy (The Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, Tennessee Johnson) to skipping straight to white reunion (Abraham Lincoln, Ken Burns’s The Civil War) to addressing its social achievements and betrayals through either subtle foreshadowing (Lincoln, Glory) or highbrowed metaphor (The Hateful Eight). Director Gary Ross’s Free State of Jones, however, which depicts the origins and aftermath of Newton Knight’s bigender and biracial anti-Confederate insurgency in Jones County, Mississippi, might be the first to properly and historically situate Reconstruction in full relation to the war itself, serving as a vigorous repudiation of Lost Cause mythology.

Consulted by and employing source material from historians including Eric Foner, David Blight, and Victoria Bynum, Free State of Jones presents a wartime regional counternarrrative that becomes a postwar national standard narrative. In other words, the events depicted both are and are not historically representative. Led by farmer-turned-renegade Knight, ably portrayed by a suitably angular Matthew McConaughey, white members of the “Knight Company” are deserters and poor farmers who have rejected the Confederate “Twenty Negro Law” and regressive property confiscation; its black constituents are self-emancipated slaves and intrepid spies with even greater interest in overthrowing the callous Southern plantocracy. Through a series of competently shot skirmishes and ambushes, this militant underclass slowly drives Confederate forces from a large swath of southeast Mississippi. Persecuted by the Confederacy and ignored by the Union, Knight’s militia declares a “Free State of Jones” committed to principles of social and economic egalitarianism. His white wife and child having absconded, Knight falls for a mixed race slave, Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and together they create a biracial community that still exists…

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Free State of Jones: The Incredible True Story of Newton Knight and His Private Rebellion Against the Confederacy

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-26 23:35Z by Steven

Free State of Jones: The Incredible True Story of Newton Knight and His Private Rebellion Against the Confederacy

People Magazine
2016-06-24

Michael Miller

Free State of Jones brings to life one of the Civil War’s most extraordinary and counterintuitive episodes, in which a Confederate deserter overthrew his former commanders and established a free “state” in his native corner of southeast Mississippi.

Newton Knight, played by a ragged, yellow-toothed Matthew McConaughey, was a poor farmer who, incensed by a new law that allowed landowners to swap 20 slaves for their military service, abandoned his company to lead his own rebellion.

“He looked around at all of his yeoman farmer buddies and said, ‘Do you own any slaves?’ They were like, ‘No.’ He goes, ‘Me neither. I’m not fighting this war. It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. I’m out of here,’ ” McConaughey tells PEOPLE of his character…

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On The Free State Of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-20 22:47Z by Steven

On The Free State Of Jones

The Huffington Post
2016-06-20

Steven Hahn, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of History
University of Pennsylvania

Three quarters of a century ago, “Gone with the Wind,” a film that mythologized an Old South of wealthy planters and obedient slaves, premiered in Atlanta amidst great fanfare and public interest. This week, a very different sort of film about the South of the Civil War and Reconstruction era – “Free State of Jones” — will have its premiere, and as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the War and Reconstruction and struggle through our own time of social and racial divisiveness, the public would do very well to take the film’s measure.

That is because “Free State of Jones,” challenges our many misconceptions of the Civil War and Reconstruction and can promote a dialogue about what may have been possible more than a century ago – and what is very much possible in our own day. “Free State of Jones” is based on a true story of interracial resistance to the Confederacy in Civil War Mississippi. It is the story of how a white farmer from humble origins named Newton Knight came to see how the Confederacy favored the rich planters at the expense of men and women like himself and chose to organize a rebellion aimed at establishing a terrain of freedom, a “free state,” in the county of Jones

…But Newton Knight eventually went further still. The strongest resistance to the Confederacy came, not from poor white folk, but from those who were destined to be its main victims: the slaves. In Mississippi and elsewhere in the Confederate South, they took the opportunity of the War to flee their plantations and farms, head to Union lines, or form maroons in swamps and remote woodlands, denying slaveholders the labor and submission that had been expected. During his own battles with the Confederacy in rural Jones County, Knight forged alliances with African Americans, most specifically a slave named Rachel with whom he developed an intimate relationship and eventually raised a family…

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A Confederate Dissident, in a Film With Footnotes

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-17 19:01Z by Steven

A Confederate Dissident, in a Film With Footnotes

The New York Times
2016-06-15

Jennifer Schuessler

The forthcoming Matthew McConaughey drama “Free State of Jones” lays claim to being the first Hollywood film in decades to depict Reconstruction, the still controversial post-Civil War period that attempted to rebuild the South along racially egalitarian lines.

But the movie, written and directed by Gary Ross, might also lay claim to a more unusual title: the first Hollywood drama to come with footnotes.

The film recounts the true story of Newton Knight (Mr. McConaughey), a Confederate deserter who led a ragtag dissident army from the swamps of Jones County, Miss., and continued to fight for the rights of African-Americans after the Civil War ended…

…Where Mr. Ross has invented characters or episodes or made guesses about motivations, he explains why, pointing to justifications in the historical record. For example, the film depicts Knight’s decades-long relationship with Rachel (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw of “Belle”), a former slave who once belonged to his grandfather and with whom he had several children. The site shows an 1876 document in which Knight (who remained married to his white wife) deeded her 160 acres of land — an indication, Mr. Ross writes, that theirs was “a loving relationship that grew over time,” rather than manifesting a “Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings power dynamic.” Knight did not own slaves.

The extent of Knight’s collaborations across the color line has been a point of sometimes hot debate among scholars, including those on Mr. Ross’s team. In 2009, after Mr. Stauffer and Sally Jenkins published “The State of Jones,” a book inspired by Mr. Ross’s screenplay, Ms. Bynum posted a blistering three-part review on her blog, questioning what she called its “highly exaggerated claims” that Knight had fought for racial equality before and after the war…

…It remains to be seen how Mr. Ross’s film will land with audiences. Kellie Carter Jackson, an assistant professor of history at Hunter College and the author of the coming book “Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence,” said there was a need for a more accurate depiction of Reconstruction, but noted that Hollywood “has a hard time divesting white men from the center of the universe.”…

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Conversations: Victoria Bynum

Posted in History, Interviews, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2016-06-17 14:58Z by Steven

Conversations: Victoria Bynum

Mississippi Public Broadcasting
Aired: 2016-06-16
Length: 00:26:46


Historian and author Victoria Bynum talks about her book, “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest War.” First published in 2003, the book tells the story of Jones County residents who opposed secession from the Union during the civil war. The true story is receiving a resurgence in interest now that it has been made into a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey.

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Civil War Fires Up Literary Shootout

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2011-02-23 05:09Z by Steven

Civil War Fires Up Literary Shootout

The New York Times
2009-07-29

Michael Cieply

LOS ANGELES — History repeats itself. But sometimes it needs a little polishing up from Hollywood.

Over the last few weeks, the writers of a pair of Civil War-era histories about the anti-Confederate inhabitants of Jones County, Miss., have been trading barbs in an unusual public spat. It began when the author of one book, rights to which had been sold to Universal Pictures and the filmmaker Gary Ross, discovered that Mr. Ross had spurred the publication of a new and somewhat sexier work on the same subject.

The encounter has created unexpected bad blood over incidents that occurred—or not—more than 100 years ago. And it offers a glimpse of the way that show business and its values have become entwined with the academic book world and its decision-making process.

On June 23 Doubleday published “The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded From the Confederacy,” a narrative history by the Harvard scholar John Stauffer and the Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins. The book, which on Monday was ranked No. 83 on Amazon’s best-seller list, presented Newton Knight, the leader of the renegade county, as a morally driven hero in the mold of John Brown—but whose appeal was enhanced by his romance with an ex-slave who, in the book’s account, became the love of his life as relations with his white wife cooled.

In the book’s acknowledgments, the authors thanked Mr. Ross, who they said had brought the idea to their editor, Phyllis Grann at Doubleday, and whose screenplay had served as “our impetus and our inspiration.”

This all came as a surprise to Victoria Bynum, a history professor at Texas State University, San Marcos. Her own book on the subject—“The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War”—had been published eight years earlier by the University of North Carolina Press, which sold the film rights to Universal as material for Mr. Ross’s project in 2007…

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White Negro Communities: Too White To Be Black And Too Black To Be White

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery on 2010-09-21 04:36Z by Steven

White Negro Communities: Too White To Be Black And Too Black To Be White

Johnathon Odell: Discovering Our Stories
2010-07-25

John Odell

Yvonne Bivins had to make a choice very few Americans have forced upon them.  She could live as a black woman or a white woman.

Yvonne’s ancestry is enmeshed with the Knights of Jones County [Mississippi]. She was born into one of the so-called “White Negro” communities that sprang up after the Civil War all over through the Piney Woods. These communities grew up around Piney Woods plantations, actually no bigger than farms. There’s Six Town and Soso and Sheeplow. Her community is called Kelly Settlement and located few miles miles outside of Laurel.

Hold on to your hats and I’ll tell you how Kelly Settlement came into existence.  John Kelly, an early petitioner in Mississippi Territory, purchased 640 acres on the Leaf River. His son, Green Kelly had a liaison with a slave named Sarah. Sarah had children by her white master, by a white neighbor and by another slave on the farm. That made three sets of children, a total of eleven.

This may surprise you. It sure did me. But according to Yvonne, it was not an uncommon practice for Piney Woods slave owners, perhaps because of the intimacy created by these modest estates that demanded close-quarters living, to provide for all their offspring, regardless of color. We just don’t hear about it. Newt Knight was vilified not because he sired darker offspring, but because he refused to deny them…

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