Breath of Freedom

Posted in Europe, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States, Videos on 2014-02-15 21:24Z by Steven

Breath of Freedom

The Smithsonian Channel
Premieres Monday, 2014-02-17 20:00 EST

Narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr.

They fought to liberate Germany from Nazi rule, as racism reached unfathomable levels. Their fight would continue back home on American soil. This is the story of the one-million-plus African Americans who fought in World War II. Discover their encounters with hatred, from the enemy and from within their own ranks. Explore this paradoxical chapter in American history through interviews with war heroes, including Colin Powell, Tuskegee ace pilot Roscoe Brown, and Charles Evers, brother of Civil Rights activist and WWII veteran Medgar Evers. [The documentary also features Theodor Michael, author of Deutsch sein und schwarz dazu: Erinnerungen eines Afro-Deutschen [Being German and also Being Black: Memoirs of an Afro-German].]

Watch the exclusive premiere here.

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Veteran Served as a White, Convicted of Miscegenation

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, United States on 2014-01-03 22:09Z by Steven

Veteran Served as a White, Convicted of Miscegenation

The Milwaukee Journal
Monday, 1948-12-20
page 20, columns 2 & 3

Davis Knight —AP Wirephoto

Ellisville, Miss.—(AP)—A young veteran who served in the navy as a white man and later married a white woman has been convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to five years in prison.

Dist. Atty Paul Swartzfager said the conviction Saturday of 23 year old Davis Knight was believed to be the first under the state’s miscegenation law, in force since reconstruction days. The law forbids marriage or cohabitation between white persons and those with at least one-eighth Negro or Mongolian blood. Conviction automatically cancels the marriage.

Knight whose marriage was performed in April, 1946, by the mayor of this south Mississippi town of 3,000, filed notice of appeal. Knight was arrested when “people started talking” and told his employer in Laurel that he was a Negro. Quitman Ross, his attorney, explained.

The main issue in the trial was the ancestry of Knight’s great-grand-mother, who was known as Rachel and who lived on the plantation of Capt. Newt Knight a picturesque character in Mississippi history. Rachel the state contended, was a Negro, and witnesses were introduced who testified that she and her children were known as Negroes. Among these witnesses was Tom Knight, 89 year old son of Capt. Knight who said that the young navy veteran’s grandfather was a son of Rachel.

Defense witnesses testified that they believed Rachel was a Cherokee Indian.

Swartzfager said no charges were planned against the white woman who married Knight under the impression that he was of all white blood.

Knight was drafted as a white, man at Camp Shelby in 1943 and his discharge papers. Swartzfager said, listed him as white.

Note from Steven F. Riley: For more about the Knight family, please read Victoria E. Bynum’s superb monograph, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.

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Letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin

Posted in Law, Letters, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2013-07-07 19:42Z by Steven

Letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin

University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
Special Collections: Exhibits and Events


Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission
New Capitol Building
Jackson, Mississippi

Erle Johnston, Jr., Director
Governor Ross R. Barnett, Chairman

Phones: FL 4-3218; FL 2-1022


TO: Honorable Paul B. Johnson, Governor; Honorable Carroll Gartin, Lieutenant Governor

FROM: Director, Sovereignty Commission

SUBJECT: Louvenia Knight (Williamson) and her two sons, Edgar Williamson, born May 1, 1954, and Randy Williamson, born October 10, 1955

  1. This a condensation of a very voluminous file in the Sovereignty Commission on the two Williamson boys, shown on their birth certificates to be white males, sons of white parents, but possessing an amount of Negro blood believed to be between 1/16 and 1/32.
  2. This family lives in the Stringer community of Jasper County. A school bus from Stringer white attendance center passes in front of their home and also a school bus from the white attendance center at Soso in Jones County. The School Board in Jasper County will not permit them to go to the white school and the School Board in Jones County will not take them on transfer. They cannot and will not attend the Negro schools because they are white and because this would be violating Mississippi law. They are now eight and nine years old respectively and have never attended school one day.
  3. The State Department of Education asked the Sovereignty Commission to investigate and try to work out a solution to this problem. The Sovereignty Commission has made every attempt, through investigation and meeting with the school board personnel, to get these boys into a white school. We have even advised the officials involved that we can expect a lot of bad publicity on Mississippi if the boys are not admitted to a school. As of now, the newspapers, who know about the case, are withholding publication at the request of the Sovereignty Commission Director. We cannot maintain this black-out indefinitely.
  4. Unless the influence of the Governor’s office and/or the Lieutenant Governor’s office can be of some assistance in solving this problem, the Sovereignty Commission must close its files with the situation remaining status quo. When we close our files without progress we are afraid the news media will begin to publicize this case as two white boys who cannot go to school in Mississippi. As a newspaper man myself, I realize this story would make national headlines and we hare attempted to avoid it.
  5. The Sovereignty Commission Director will be happy to hear any recommendations from the Governor or Lieutenant Governor. The Commission file on this case is available if you wish to study it in detail.

Erle Johnston, Jr.

View the letter here.

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Mississippi rebel’s descendants seek family facts

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2013-07-07 01:33Z by Steven

Mississippi rebel’s descendants seek family facts

The Jackson Sun

Laura Tillman, Associated Press

SOSO, MISS. — One hundred and fifty years have passed since the Civil War, but in Mississippi, the descendants of a legendary rebel are still separating the facts of his life from fiction.

Newton Knight, a white farmer from central Mississippi’s Jones County, rebelled against the Confederate Army. He spent years evading capture, living in swamps and the Piney Woods. He married a white woman named Serena and later moved in with a former slave named Rachel. She was owned by Knight’s family and carried their surname, and she had helped him during his days dodging the Confederate Army.

He shared his life with both women.

Today, Florence Knight Blaylock, 81, and her sister, Dorothy Knight Marsh, 69, are among those fascinated with the family legend. The sisters — who live in Soso — consider Newton and Rachel Knight their great-grandparents…

…According to historian Victoria Bynum, the county first acquired a reputation as the “Free State of Jones” because of the plentiful land that could be claimed by squatters. The title gained new significance after Knight’s rebellion against the Confederate Army.

Some say Rachel was of African descent, while others say she was an American Indian. Still others say she had a mixture of African, American Indian and white ancestry. Confusion is increased by the existence of several photographs purporting to show Rachel — all of different women.

The popular narrative holds that Serena, Newton’s wife, was white, but others say she also had American Indian ancestry…

…Davis Knight, a great-grandson of Newton Knight, Serena Knight and Rachel Knight, was tried in court on charges of illegal interracial marriage in 1948. Edgar and Randy Williamson, Newton Knight’s great-great-grandchildren, went to court in the 1960s after they were banned from a white school.

Blaylock recalls her family being called names such as “half-breed” and “white negro,” or worse, in the 1930s or ’40s. She remembers being stared at and whispered about as a child, and watching a band of rowdy white men pull her father and brother out of the house to beat them…

…Bynum, whose family also descends from Jones County, has written about the complicated social and legal terrain Knight’s descendants were forced to negotiate. Her work has been made more challenging by conflicting stories passed down by different branches of the Knight family…

Read the entire article here.

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The Barber of Natchez

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2013-04-05 04:30Z by Steven

The Barber of Natchez

National Park Service
Natchez: National Historical Park, Mississippi

Timothy Van Cleave, Park Ranger
Natchez National Historical Park

The Life of William Johnson

Known as the “barber” of Natchez, William Johnson began his life as a slave. His freedom at age eleven followed that of his mother Amy and his sister Adelia. After working as an apprentice to his brother-in-law James Miller, Johnson bought the barber shop in 1830 for three hundred dollars and taught the trade to free black boys. It was shortly after he established a barber shop in downtown Natchez that he began to keep a diary. The diary was a mainstay in Johnson’s life until his death in 1851.

As a young prominent citizen in the free black community of Natchez, Johnson’s interest in marriage and starting a family was strengthened by his thriving business. By 1835, his initial investment of three hundred dollars had grown to almost three thousand. His dress was impeccable and he was confident in his future. So confident that he caught the eye of twenty year old Ann Battles. Battles, also a free black married Johnson in 1835. Their eleventh child was born in 1851 at the time of Johnson’s death…

…In 1851 a boundary dispute with his neighbor Baylor Winn found the two men in court. Although, the judge ruled in Johnson’s favor, Winn was not satisfied. Winn, also a free black ambushed Johnson returning from his farm and shot him. Johnson lived long enough to name Winn as the guilty party. Through strange circumstances, Winn was never convicted of the killing. Winn and his defense argued that he was actually white and not a free person of color because of his Indian ancestry in Virginia. Therefore, the “mulatto” boy who accompanied Johnson on that fateful day could not testify against Winn. Mississippi law allowed for blacks to testify against whites in civil cases, but not in criminal cases. Two hung juries could not decide if he was white or black, so Johnson’s killer walked free

Read the entire article here.

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Biracial cohabitation in Miss. is old news

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-04-02 04:03Z by Steven

Biracial cohabitation in Miss. is old news

Desoto Times Tribune

Bill Minor, Syndicated Columnist (Covering Mississippi politics for more than 50 years.)

Mississippi Republicans dismissed as Democratic hogwash a recent report of a poll showing that nearly half of the state’s GOPers believed interracial marriages should be illegal.

The poll—showing that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans believed marriages across racial lines, notwithstanding what the U.S. Supreme Court has said, should not be legal—was done by a Democratic-leaning North Carolina group, Public Policy Polling.

On the other hand, state Republicans did not find fault with other parts of the PPP poll, namely that Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant held a solid lead (63 percent) in his bid for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Actually, the subject of racial intermarriages was only a side issue in the PPP poll. Importantly, the poll dusted off a subject that has long floated just below the surface in Mississippi. We must remember that Mississippi has the highest percentage African-American population among the nation’s states.

The question of racial intermarriage in Mississippi came up in the poll only a few days after an in-depth story in the New York Times spotlighted a black-white Hattiesburg couple whose 11-year marriage has caused not a ripple in the city’s 50,000 population…

…In his prize-winning “Dark Journey… Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow,” former University of Southern Mississippi historian Neil McMillen relates that biracial cohabitation in Mississippi flourished in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era prior to the state’s 1890 Constitution. Many of those unions led to intermarriage, McMillen writes, because there was no law against it during Reconstruction.

However, the 1890 “redemption” constitutional convention, wrote a specific prohibition against racial intermarriages into Mississippi’s new basic law, banning unions if either person had “one-eighth Negro blood.” It remained there for three-quarters of a century until stricken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of note, I (as well as several national reporters) covered the state’s first known biracial wedding in 1967 after the legal ban was lifted. It was conducted by the Rev. Rims Barber, who is white, with a white female bride and a black male husband, in a Methodist church on Farish Street. The fact that the marriage was covered by the media back then indicated how such an event in this race-conscious state was regarded as a major news story…

Read the entire article here.

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Letter documenting the struggle of two children’s attempt to attend school

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-03-11 04:28Z by Steven

Letter documenting the struggle of two children’s attempt to attend school

Special Collections
University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
Item of the Month
March 2010

Jennifer Brannock, Special Collections Librarian

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History: Sovereignty Commission Online

[Note from Steven F. Riley: For more on Newton Knight, Rachel Knight, and the "Free State of Jones," please read Victoria E. Bynum's excellent monograph, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War.]

In 1964, 9-year-old Edgar and 8-year-old Randy Williamson had never attended a day of school. The debate over their admittance stems from the fact that they are 1/16 or 1/32 African American. They are the great, great grandchildren of Newt Knight and a slave woman, Rachel. Newt Knight is a well-known historical figure who was the man behind the “Free State of Jones.” Rachel was a slave owned by Knight’s uncle. Even though Knight was married, it is believed that he left his wife and lived with Rachel until her death.

Edgar and Randy Williamson’s great, great grandmother was African American which meant that they were 1/16 African American. According to Mississippi law at the time, a person had to be less than 1/8 African American to be considered white. In the case of the Edgar and Randy, their mother, a direct descendant of Newt and Rachel, was listed as black on her birth certificate (she was 1/8 African American) with Edgar and Randy as white (their father was white). The people in Stringer, a community in Jasper County, considered the children to be African American since their mother was. Due to these beliefs, school officials at the white school in Stringer anticipated strong objections and possible violence if the children were admitted…

Read the entire article here.

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The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Scarborough review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2013-03-11 04:26Z by Steven

The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Scarborough review)

Civil War History
Volume 49, Number 1, March 2003
pages 72-74
DOI: 10.1353/cwh.2003.0026

William Kauffman Scarborough, Professor Emeritus of History
University of Southern Mississippi

The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. By Victoria E. Bynum. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Pp. 316. Cloth.)

For generations the so-called legend of the “Free State of Jones” has circulated throughout Mississippi and, to a lesser extent, beyond the borders of the state. Anti-Confederate elements within this piney-woods county in south Mississippi, so the story goes, actually seceded from the Confederacy and established a small independent republic. As previous historians have discovered, the story is entirely apocryphal. In actuality a band of Confederate deserters led by Newton Knight formed a company in the fall of 1863 that subsequently gained control over much of this predominately non-slaveholding county and engaged in a number of skirmishes with Confederate cavalry units over a period of more than a year. The Knight Company was pretty well decimated during what the author term’s an “infamous” Confederate raid into the county in April 1864 led by Col. Robert Lowery, later a two-term governor of Mississippi (115). By the time the skirmishing ended, ten of the Jones County deserters had  been hanged, and most of the remainder had either fled to the swamps, returned to the Confederate army, or joined the Union army in New Orleans.

Those expecting to read a detailed account of the Civil War activities of Newt Knight and his intrepid band of dissident warriors will be disappointed with this book. Only two of the eight chapters (thirty-four pages in all) are devoted to the war. Instead, the author concentrates primarily on the background of the families that settled in this rural piney-woods county and on the interracial liaisons that resulted in the so-called community of “white Negroes” after the war. Indeed, as the dust jacket proclaims, this is actually an account of the “origins and legacy” of the legendary Jones County rebels from the American Revolution to the twentieth-century civil rights movement. With a heavy emphasis upon the currently fashionable theme of race, class, and gender, Bynum traces the movement of such families as the Knights, Collinses, Welborns, Bynums (the author’s father was a native of Jones County), Sumralls, Welches, and Valentines from their antecedents in the Carolinas, where they were allegedly influenced by the Great Awakening and the Regulator Movement, to their settlement in south Mississippi during the first third of the nineteenth century. It was these independent-minded nonslaveholding yeomen who opposed secession in 1861 and ultimately took up arms against the Confederacy, aided in no small measure by the female members of their families.

One of those women was Rachel Knight, a mulatto slave who had supported the Knight Company during the war and who later had a long-term intimate relationship with Knight, apparently bearing him at least two sons. Whatever the true relationship between Newt and Rachel, it is clear that the older children of the two intermarried beginning about 1878, thereby giving rise to a mixed-race community in Jones County that endures to this day. The ambiguous racial identities in the county were illuminated in 1948 when Davis Knight, a great-grandson of Rachel Knight, was convicted of violating the anti-miscegenation laws then on the books in Mississippi because he had married a white woman two years before. Although his conviction was overturned by the state supreme court, the case illustrates the complexity of the family relationships that resulted from the interracial unions inaugurated by Knight and his black paramour.

Bynum, who clearly sympathizes with Knight and his company of anti-Confederates, contends that the Civil War dissident has been stigmatized unfairly by his postwar defiance of racial customs. If he was not quite the Robin Hood figure depicted by his son, Thomas J. Knight, in a 1935 biography, he was certainly not the villainous traitor described by his segregationist grandniece, Ethel Knight, in what…

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The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2013-02-13 15:13Z by Steven

The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War

University of North Carolina Press
336 pages
6.125 x 9.25
32 illus., 9 genealogical charts, 10 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN:  978-0-8078-5467-9

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River, where, legend has it, they declared the Free State of Jones.

The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight’s interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. From their relationship there developed a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended, and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi well into the twentieth century.

Victoria Bynum traces the origins and legacy of the Jones County uprising from the American Revolution to the modern civil rights movement. In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, she shows how the legend–what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out–reveals a great deal about the South’s transition from slavery to segregation; the racial, gender, and class politics of the period; and the contingent nature of history and memory.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Sacred Wars: Race and the Ongoing Battle over the Free State of Jones
  • Part One: The Origins of Mississippi’s Piney Woods People
    • 1. Jones County’s Carolina Connection: Class and Race in Revolutionary America
    • 2. The Quest of Land: Yeoman Republicans on the Southwestern Frontier
    • 3. Piney Woods Patriarchs: Class Relations and the Growth of Slavery
    • 4. Antebellum Life on the Leaf River: Gender, Violence, and Religious Strife
    • 5. Piney Woods Patriarchs: Class Relations and the Growth of Slavery
  • Part Two: Civil War, Reconstruction and the Struggle for Power
    • 6. The Inner Civil War: Birth of the Free State of Jones
    • 7. The Free State Turned Upside Down: Colonel Lowry’s Confederate Raid on Jones County
    • 8. Reconstruction and Redemption: The Politics of Race, Class and Manhood in Jones County
    • 9. Defiance and Domination “White Negroes” in the Piney Woods New South
  • Epilogue. The Free State of Jones Revisited: Davis Knight’s Miscegenation Trial
  • Appendixes with (Selected Descendants of the Knight, Coleman, Welborn, Bynum, Collings, Sumrall, Welch, Valentine families, and The “White Negro” Community, 1880-1920.
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Visit Victoria Bynum’s interactive site for the book here.

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Anti-Miscegenation Movement

Posted in Articles, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2013-01-29 05:02Z by Steven

Anti-Miscegenation Movement

Columbus Enquirer-Sun
Columbus, Georgia
page 5, column 3

Source: Digital Library of Georgia

Organization In Louisiana to Prevent the Intermarriage of Whites and Blacks

New Orleans. September 20.—A practical movement has been inaugurated in Bossier parish, in this state, for the abolition of miscegenation. There have been during the past year or so several spasmodic efforts in this direction, both in Louisiana and Mississippi. Self-constituted vigilance committees have warned white men with negro wives and mistresses to leave them and lead a regular life, and when this failed have ridden through the parish, severely whipping both men and women who disobeyed this order.  In Mississippi there were several arrests, convictions and sentences for violation of the law prohibiting intermarriages between the races, and in Louisiana one man was severely cut in a scrimmage arising from this movement. But these anti-miscegenation raids were spasmodic, the freaks of a few wild young men. The present movement is more serious and more general, and is a thorough and practical organization, like that of the prohibitionist, to break up miscegenation.

The first meeting was held in Bossier parish in July, whore the subject was generally discussed, and adjourned over to this month to find the drift of public opinion. It was found that public sentiment among the whites was well nigh unanimous on the subject. The recent meeting held at Cottage Grove, in the upper portion of Bossier parish, was the result. There was no secrecy or mystery about it. It was an open mass meeting, in which all the people of the neighborhood—farmers, clergymen and others—assembled. The meeting was opened with prayer and presided over by a clergyman. The resolutions were of the strongest character. Those guilty of miscegenation were threatened with social boycott, and warned that they were insulting the race feelings and moral principles of the community. But the gist of the meeting was the appointment of a vigilance committee of nineteen to serve notices on these white men living with negro women—the vigilants were not instructed as to what they should if this warning is unheeded—and the appointment of another committee to assist in the organization of anti-miscegenation societies in other parishes in the state.

This plan of operation is warmly supported by the press. The Bossier Banner declares that race purity must be preserved at all hazards, the line must be sharply and distinctly drawn, and those who cross it must pay the penalty. The Robeline Reporter of Natchitoches, edited by the father of the present attorney-general of the state, approves the idea.

As this sentiment prevails in most of the neighboring parishes, it is thought that the present organization, by giving a start to the anti-miscegenation sentiment, which in this part of the state is now stronger than the anti-liquor sentiment, it will spread through north Louisiana if not into the neighboring states of Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas. There is no law in Louisiana against the intermarriage or cohabitation of f[r]aces, this prohibition, which was strongly urged by many persons, being voted down in the late constitutional convention, but miscegenation is growing rarer every day, in deference to the strong public sentiment on this point.

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