Matthew McConaughey & Gary Ross Mount Civil War Saga; Bob Simonds’ STX In Talks To Finance

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-07 03:00Z by Steven

Matthew McConaughey & Gary Ross Mount Civil War Saga; Bob Simonds’ STX In Talks To Finance

Deadline Hollywood
2014-11-05

Mike Fleming Jr., Film Editor

Anita Busch, Film Editor

EXCLUSIVE: Matthew McConaughey and writer-director Gary Ross are the catalysts for a project called Free State Of Jones, which is getting some serious attention from STX Entertainment, the new mini-studio founded by investors TPG Growth, Gigi Pritzker, Hony and Robert Simonds. We hear that company reps, financial partner IM Global (who is handling foreign), and the filmmakers are heading to AFM this afternoon to discuss pre-sales. This is one of many projects STX is considering pushing through as part of its first slate. They are looking to go before the cameras in the first quarter of 2015.

Free State Of Jones is based on the untold and extraordinary story of Newton Knight, the leader of one of the greatest rebellions in Civil War history, and we hear that STX may finance (up to $20M) for the $65M-budgeted story of one of the most controversial men from the that era. McConaughey is in talks to play the Mississippian, who defected from the Confederate Army, banded together with a group of like-minded soldiers, and set out to form their own State known as the Free State Of Jones.

Knight would later have a common-law marriage to a former slave, one of the first outwardly mixed racial unions in the South — unheard of at the time. The rebellious Knight actually fought against the Confederates from within the state and after the war freed children still enslaved after a daring raid…

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.

Read the entire article here.

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Chronicling Mississippi’s ‘Church Mothers,’ and Getting to Know a Grandmother

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Mississippi, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-08-31 18:18Z by Steven

Chronicling Mississippi’s ‘Church Mothers,’ and Getting to Know a Grandmother

The New York Times
2014-08-29

Samuel G. Freedman, Professor of Journalism
Columbia University, New York

SUMNER, Miss. — Toward noon on a torrid Monday in the Mississippi Delta, Alysia Burton Steele drove down Highway 49, looking for the crossroads near the Old Antioch Baptist Church. There, at the corner of a road called Friendship, she turned into the African-American section of Sumner, a dwindling hamlet of about 300 that suffices as a county seat.

A photographer by training and a professor by title, Ms. Steele was headed for the homes of two older neighbors, Lela Bearden, 88, and Herma Mims Floyd. She was bringing the women legacies to inspect, legacies in the form of portraits and testimonies she had taken of them over the last few years.

Ms. Bearden and Ms. Floyd were part of a larger assemblage of 50 African-American women whom Ms. Steele had chosen to chronicle in text and image for a book-in-progress she has titled “Jewels in the Delta.”

Whether by formal investiture or informal acclamation, nearly all the women in the book held the title of “church mother,” a term of respect and homage in black Christianity. As lifelong residents of the Delta — the landscape of the blues bards Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson and the terrain of the civil rights crusaders Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer — the women had lived through segregation and struggle and liberation.

“I knew there were hard times,” said Ms. Steele, 44. “But I did not understand it. Just to hear the things they went through. That blacks couldn’t try on shoes in stores. That you couldn’t go to school if there was cotton to pick. The stories made me cry. They put a face on history for me. I felt like I got my private history lesson.”

In her work, Ms. Steele has attested to the worth of lives that Jim Crow meant to render worthless. At times, she has had to convince the church mothers themselves that their stories were significant enough to be part of a book…

…For Ms. Steele, such biography served a covertly personal purpose. The past for which she was searching in the Delta was that of her own grandmother, Althenia Burton.

As the daughter of a black father and white mother, who divorced when she was 3, Ms. Steele was raised by her paternal grandparents. While young Alysia cherished her grandmother, her Gram, she also bitterly resisted her. When her grandmother insisted on bringing Alysia to church, the girl poked holes in her tights in the futile attempt at an excuse to miss it. Even as Ms. Burton cultivated her granddaughter’s ambition for college, she dismissed her passion for photography with the pronouncement “Pick a real major.”…

Read the entire article here.

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A Mother’s Love: Stories of Struggle, Sacrifice, Love and Wisdom

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-08-31 17:55Z by Steven

A Mother’s Love: Stories of Struggle, Sacrifice, Love and Wisdom

The Root
2014-05-11

Breanna Edwards

Journalist Alysia Steele’s explores the “jewels in the Mississippi Delta” who held it down for their families through decades of strife and racial struggle.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and many of us may feel the keen absence of the women who meant the most to us.

How many times have you wished you could turn back the hands of time and have one more conversation with one of the most influential women of your life? Maybe have notes of memorable anecdotes they shared?

This was one of Alysia Steele’s biggest regrets concerning her paternal grandmother, Althenia A. Burton, who died 20 years ago. Since then, the memory of her grandmother has stayed with Steele, never fading, and ultimately culminating in the conception of her current project, a book proposal, “Jewels in the Delta,” that has gained interest from publishers.

“I have a huge sense of regret that as a trained journalist I never had the foresight to get her story and I’ll never hear her voice again, and I can’t even tell you how much that hurts me,” Steele tells The Root.

Steele has interviewed about 47 women and is conducting the last of what will be a total of 50 interviews in the coming days. The project has taken her approximately 11 months to complete and countless hours of recording, transcribing, coaxing and traveling. It’s been hard work, to be sure, but to Steele the end goal has been more than worth it.

“How many of us stop and talk to our grandparents to get to their stories? To really ask them the questions that are hard?” she adds…

…In an excerpt from Steele’s book proposal, Virginia Hower, 93, shared how she “felt dirty” because of her ability to pass for white in a segregated society.

It was horror. You felt bad because you couldn’t be with your grandmother or your grandfather. You just accepted it. I couldn’t be with them because they were darker. Sometimes you felt bad because you could ride in a clean coach and just to think that your grandmother couldn’t kiss you as you stepped off the train. But they accepted it, so why not enjoy the clean train? And then when I got down on the streets, we all kiss and carry on. Those was happy moments. And then you got to thinkin’ how foolish this life is, how foolish. Then you got to thinkin’ about it and say take advantage of it and a lot of people down here in Clarksdale, they went to Chicago in ’41 and never revealed they were colored.

So many fascinating stories from unassuming women who had nothing but love for their respective husbands and children and who never really spoke about the troubles and trials they had endured…

Read the entire article here.

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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
1964-02-14

  

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

MEMORANDUM

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.
EJ/ea

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
2013-07-04

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
2012-07-19

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
2011-04-27

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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