‘Free State of Jones’ author talks

Posted in History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States, Videos on 2016-03-07 17:26Z by Steven

‘Free State of Jones’ author talks

The Clarion-Ledger
Jackson, Mississippi

2016-03-02

Author Victoria Bynum discusses her book, Free State of Jones, which is now a new Hollywood movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey.

Watch the interview here.

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Kaleidoscope: Redrawing an American Family Tree

Posted in Autobiography, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Mississippi, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-03-04 20:36Z by Steven

Kaleidoscope: Redrawing an American Family Tree

University of Arkansas Press
2015-06-01
140 pages
10 images
6″ x 9″
Paper ISBN: 978-1-55728-815-8

Margaret Jones Bolsterli, Emeritus Professor
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

In 2005 Margaret Jones Bolsterli learned that her great-great-grandfather was a free mulatto named Jordan Chavis, who owned an antebellum plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The news was a shock; Bolsterli had heard about the plantation in family stories told during her Arkansas Delta childhood, but Chavis’s name and race had never been mentioned. With further exploration Bolsterli found that when Chavis’s children crossed the Mississippi River between 1859 and 1875 for exile in Arkansas, they passed into the white world, leaving the family’s racial history completely behind.

Kaleidoscope is the story of this discovery, and it is the story, too, of the rise and fall of the Chavis fortunes in Mississippi, from the family’s first appearance on a frontier farm in 1829 to ownership of over a thousand acres and the slaves to work them by 1860. Bolsterli learns that in the 1850s, when all free colored people were ordered to leave Mississippi or be enslaved, Jordan Chavis’s white neighbors successfully petitioned the legislature to allow him to remain, unmolested, even as three of his sons and a daughter moved to Arkansas and Illinois. She learns about the agility with which the old man balanced on a tightrope over chaos to survive the war and then take advantage of the opportunities of newly awarded citizenship during Reconstruction. The story ends with the family’s loss of everything in the 1870s, after one of the exiled sons returns to Mississippi to serve in the Reconstruction legislature and a grandson attempts unsuccessfully to retain possession of the land. In Kaleidoscope, long-silenced truths are revealed, inviting questions about how attitudes toward race might have been different in the family and in America if the truth about this situation and thousands of others like it could have been told before.

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

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Monographs, United States on 2016-03-04 20:34Z by Steven

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

University of North Carolina Press
March 2016
352 pages
32 halftones, 10 maps, 4 tables
appends., notes, bibl., index
Paper ISBN 978-1-4696-2705-2

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

With a New Afterword by the Author

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 they declared their loyalty to the U.S. government.

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.

In a new afterword, Bynum updates readers on recent scholarship, current issues of race and Southern heritage, and the coming movie that make this Civil War story essential reading.

The Free State of Jones film, starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Keri Russell, will be released in May 2016.

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“The Free State of Jones” on Film: A Q&A with Victoria Bynum

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2016-03-02 23:18Z by Steven

“The Free State of Jones” on Film: A Q&A with Victoria Bynum

The Society of Civil War Historians
2016-03-01

Megan Kate Nelson

This May, STX Entertainment will release the film Free State of Jones, which tells the story of the Knight Company and the Jones County rebellion, a Civil War history first told by Victoria Bynum in her 2001 book The Free State of Jones. A few weeks ago, Bynum and I discussed her experiences working as a consultant on the film, and seeing her book come alive on the screen.

MKN: Did you know at the time you were writing “The Free State of Jones” that it had cinematic potential? And what is it about this story that makes it compelling for filmmakers?

VB: As I researched and wrote The Free State of Jones, I grew increasingly aware of its historical importance as an insurrection that combined elements of class, race, gender, and kinship that, for this story, had long been underestimated, misunderstood, distorted, or simply ignored.

Although I did not write the book with a movie in mind, the story’s vivid real-life characters, its oral and written first-hand accounts of fierce confrontations between Confederates and deserters, the interracial romance between the band’s leader, Newt Knight, and his slave accomplice, Rachel Knight, and the Unionist core of the band itself, convinced me of the story’s cinematic potential.

On the standard author’s questionnaire that I completed for the University of North Carolina Press, I advised the press to consider presenting the book “to television and film companies as a potential docudrama or miniseries.” At that point, however, I did not anticipate Hollywood’s interest in the story…

Read the entire interview here.

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The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2016-02-24 04:12Z by Steven

The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’

The Smithsonian Magazine
March 2016

Richard Grant; Photographs by William Widmer

A new Hollywood movie looks at the tale of the Mississippi farmer who led a revolt against the Confederacy

With two rat terriers trotting at his heels, and a long wooden staff in his hand, J.R. Gavin leads me through the woods to one of the old swamp hide-outs. A tall white man with a deep Southern drawl, Gavin has a stern presence, gracious manners and intense brooding eyes. At first I mistook him for a preacher, but he’s a retired electronic engineer who writes self-published novels about the rapture and apocalypse. One of them is titled Sal Batree, after the place he wants to show me.


On his property, Jones County’s J. R. Gavin points out a site that was a hide-out for Newt Knight. “The Confederates kept sending in troops to wipe out old Newt and his boys,” says Gavin, “but they’d just melt into the swamps.” (William Widmer)

I’m here in Jones County, Mississippi, to breathe in the historical vapors left by Newton Knight, a poor white farmer who led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War. With a company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi, he did what many Southerners now regard as unthinkable. He waged guerrilla war against the Confederacy and declared loyalty to the Union.

In the spring of 1864, the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones, and some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy. This little-known, counterintuitive episode in American history has now been brought to the screen in Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and starring a grimy, scruffed-up Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight.


As great-granddaughters of Newt and Rachel, Dorothy Knight Marsh, left, and Florence Knight Blaylock revere their past: “It’s a very unusual, complex family,” says Blaylock. (William Widmer)

…After the Civil War, Knight took up with his grandfather’s former slave Rachel; they had five children together. Knight also fathered nine children with his white wife, Serena, and the two families lived in different houses on the same 160-acre farm. After he and Serena separated—they never divorced—Newt Knight caused a scandal that still reverberates by entering a common-law marriage with Rachel and proudly claiming their mixed-race children.

The Knight Negroes, as these children were known, were shunned by whites and blacks alike. Unable to find marriage partners in the community, they started marrying their white cousins instead, with Newt’s encouragement. (Newt’s son Mat, for instance, married one of Rachel’s daughters by another man, and Newt’s daughter Molly married one of Rachel’s sons by another man.) An interracial community began to form near the small town of Soso, and continued to marry within itself…

Read the article here.

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The Free State of Jones Movie to be released May 13, 2016

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-01-10 01:12Z by Steven

The Free State of Jones Movie to be released May 13, 2016

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2016-01-05

Vikki Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
Texas State University, San Marcos


The Free State of Jones Movie poster

Victoria E. Bynum is author of the book The Free State of Jones, Movie Edition: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War from which the move is based.

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From Legend to History to Film: “The Free State of Jones”

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2015-11-18 02:41Z by Steven

From Legend to History to Film: “The Free State of Jones”

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2015-11-17

Vikki Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
Texas State University, San Marcos


The Free State of Jones, the movie

Between November 19–22, 2015, the Smithsonian Institute and National Endowment of the Humanities will host a history film forum at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC. The forum will include a panel discussion of the forthcoming movie, The Free State of Jones.

According to Executive Director and forum curator Christopher Wilson, “by looking at several brand new films that illuminate the Secrets of American History, we will consider the issues that arise when true stories of the past become the subject of our on-screen entertainment.” To this end, on November 21, distinguished historians David Blight and Steven Hahn will join Gary Ross, the movie’s director and screenplay author, to discuss the challenges of bringing The Free State of Jones to the Big Screen.

The forum will also address the ways in which “films reflect the social, political, and cultural concerns of the times in which they were made,” which speaks to the question posed on Twitter by Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory: “What has changed in our Civil War memory to make room for just such a movie?”

Good question. Given that tales about the Free State of Jones have been around since before the Civil War ended, why wasn’t a movie about these plain white farmers of Civil War Mississippi who armed themselves and fought against the Confederacy made before now?…

Read the entire article here.

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Tap Roots (1948): A Review of the first “Free State of Jones” movie

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2015-10-12 00:14Z by Steven

Tap Roots (1948): A Review of the first “Free State of Jones” movie

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2015-10-11

Vikki Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

As we await the release of The Free State of Jones, I thought it might be fun to visit an earlier movie similarly inspired by Newt Knight and the Knight band’s Civil War uprising. Tap Roots, adapted from James Street’s 1942 novel of the same name, was released by Universal International Pictures in August, 1948.

As I searched the internet, I quickly discovered that New York Times reviewer Tom Pryor had been anything but impressed by the movie. “Checking the accuracy of historical detail in Tap Roots, the romanticized Civil War drama,” he wrote, . . . “would serve no special purpose,” presumably because, he added, “clichés, oral and visual,” had produced a drama whose characters exhibited no “individuality or substance.”

Although I had read the novel Tap Roots many years ago, I had never seen the movie—until now. After viewing seven of the eight sections of Tap Roots on YouTube over the space of two days, I have to say, Pryor was correct. Moviegoers learned little to nothing about the important story of Southern Unionism in Jones County, Mississippi, from this production…

Read the entire review here.

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Race in the United States – Mississippi and Hawaii at Two Ends of the Spectrum

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Mississippi, Social Science, United States on 2015-09-08 20:51Z by Steven

Race in the United States – Mississippi and Hawaii at Two Ends of the Spectrum

UCR Today
University of California, Riverdale
2015-09-04

Mojgan Sherkat (mojgan.sherkat@ucr.edu)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – There’s a lot to learn about race in the United States through statistical figures alone, especially when comparisons are made between Hawaii and Mississippi, according to David Swanson, professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside.

“Hawaii and Mississippi stand out from each other and the U.S. as a whole in terms of health, education, and income,” said Swanson.

Swanson will release an essay on the topic on Zócalo Public Square on Sept. 16, 2015. The not-for-profit ideas exchange board will have a discussion on “What can Hawaii Teach America About Race?” It is co-sponsored by the Smithsonian and the Inouye Institute. The essay will be available on Zocalo‘s website.

Swanson used data from the U.S. Census Bureau (except life expectancy data, which comes from Wikipedia) to demonstrate race in America…

Read the entire article here.

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Chosen by Mississippi Democrats, Shy Trucker Is at a Crossroad

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-09-08 01:41Z by Steven

Chosen by Mississippi Democrats, Shy Trucker Is at a Crossroad

The New York Times
2015-09-07

Campbell Robertson, Southern Correspondent


Robert Gray (Photo source: WLBT-TV)

JACKSON, Miss. — Only three people who had ever met this man, Robert Gray, knew that he was running in the primary for governor of Mississippi.

There were the two volunteers who took his $300 filing fee and qualifying papers several months ago at the state Democratic Party office and the candidate for agriculture commissioner who happened to be in the headquarters at the same time.

Otherwise, no one — not even Mr. Gray’s mother, with whom he lives.

At least she voted for him when she saw his name on the Aug. 4 ballot. Mr. Gray, 46, a round-faced, soft-spoken long-haul truck driver who lives on a quiet country road south of Jackson, was too busy working on his rig to vote himself. He would, nonetheless, go on to win, taking 79 out of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

Mr. Gray beat two other candidates, who unlike him spent money and campaigned. Democratic Party officials were stunned. The news media was stunned. Mr. Gray, now Mississippi’s Democratic nominee for governor, gave some interviews and then set off with a truck full of sweet potatoes for a potato chip factory in Pennsylvania…

…No one there had met Mr. Gray, but Gary Downing, who was getting a little off the ears, offered a thought on the state of politics: “Can’t do no worse than what we’ve got.”

This may be the central plank of the Gray campaign, such as it is. His campaign staff for now consists mostly of his sister, Angela Gray, 45, who works in real estate in Georgia, and Dwight Utz, 57, an engineer who moved here three years ago from Idaho. Mr. Utz, who is white, sees the campaign as the stirrings of a new civil rights movement.

Mr. Gray does not talk much about race. He cites no specific issue that prompted him to run for governor. He emphasizes a more general conviction that the state has been foundering for too long and that it could be thriving if only the governor would expand Medicaid and spend more on infrastructure and education…

Read the entire article here.

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