The Real Rebels: A Review of Free State of Jones with Reflections on Lost Causes

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-24 02:03Z by Steven

The Real Rebels: A Review of Free State of Jones with Reflections on Lost Causes

The Labor And Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA)
2016-07-12

Mark Lause, Professor of History
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio

I can feel a certain sympathy for people who get hoodwinked into fighting for a Lost Cause that could never be worthy of the blood and treasure spent on its behalf. After all, as a child of the Cold War, my own closest brush with toting a gun to war came during Vietnam. In that conflict, the government, both political parties, the military, the media, the universities, the corporations, and the entire power structure insisted that the triumph of a Vietnamese effort to control of their own country would start toppling dominoes that would end in Anytown, U.S.A. By the end, most Americans actually doubted this. In hindsight, there’s no real issue as to whether the power structure of the people were correct, though some feel obligated to pretend otherwise.

Responses to the Free State of Jones by Gary Ross, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Mahershala Ali demonstrate that such denials of experience can last a long time. The movie offers a fictionalized version of the revolt of poor Southerners against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Newton Knight worked on medical duties at the front until his disgust with the war inspired his desertion and return home. “Captain” Knight held that title for his role as the leader of guerilla forces that successfully made parts of southern Mississippi a no-go zone for Confederate tax gatherers and conscript officers. It is based on Victoria E. Bynum’s superb historical account The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), and aims to be much more truthful than Hollywood’s first attempt at the subject in 1948, Tap Roots.

Free State of Jones directly confronts the issues of class and race that Tap Roots downplayed or avoided. This fact, in part, explains the mixed reviews.

A movie is not a documentary, of course. The page dedicated to Free State of Jones at “History vs. Hollywood” provides a useful corrective, and I would urge everybody who liked the movie to read Bynum’s book…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings’ reimagines difficult history

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-24 00:23Z by Steven

‘Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings’ reimagines difficult history

The Chicago Tribune
2016-07-23

Meredith Maran

“Until the lions have their own historians,” says an African proverb, “the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The proverb offers one answer to a question that has long plagued writers, activists and historians. Who gets to tell the stories of those who have been denied the right to tell their own?

Given that heterosexual white men still get the, um, lion’s share of book contracts, should straight people write books about the gay rights movement? Should men write about the struggle for women’s equality? And — as with Harriet Beecher Stowe’sUncle Tom’s Cabin,” Mark Twain’sAdventures of Huckleberry Finn,” William Styron’s Pulitzer-winning “Confessions of Nat Turner” and now Stephen O’Connor’s Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings” —should a white person write a book whose central dilemma is slavery?

“Anyone has the right to write about any subject available to be written about,” historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. has said. But the white person who writes a 624-page novel about the 37-year love affair between a white slave owner — who happens to be the third president of the United States and author of the phrase “All men are created equal” — and a mixed-race slave — whom he happens to own and who happens to give birth to six of his children — had better have the politics, the courage and, most importantly, the storytelling skills to get it right.

Fortunately, O’Connor manifests an abundance of these qualities in “Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings,” his debut novel. Ambitious doesn’t begin to describe the scope of the project O’Connor undertook. And successful doesn’t begin to describe the wildly imaginative techniques he used to realize his authorial goal, which is clearly to humanize — equalize, you might say — the two members of this passionate, conflicted couple: the lionized, hypocritical Jefferson, who railed against slavery while owning slaves, and the powerful yet complicit Hemings, who loved and loathed her owner…

Read the entire review here.

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Dido Belle: Britain’s first black aristocrat

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2016-07-23 23:58Z by Steven

Dido Belle: Britain’s first black aristocrat

The Telegraph
2016-07-06

Nisha Lilia Diu

Amma Asante’s award-winning film Belle arrives on Netflix today. In this feature, first published in June 2014, Nisha Lilia Diu reveals the true story that inspired it

The amazing thing about Dido Elizabeth Belle is not that she was mixed-race. Who knows how many white men’s children were born to black slave women in the 18th century? It’s not even that her father was a wealthy English aristocrat – there were plenty of titled captains tearing around the Caribbean at that time, capturing French and Dutch schooners during the Seven Years’ War and making off with their sugar, coffee and other (often human) cargo. The extraordinary thing about Dido Belle is that her father, a 24-year-old Navy officer called John Lindsay, took her home to England and asked his extended family to raise her. And they did. They did it in some style, too.

Belle grew up in Kenwood House in north London. It was the palatial weekend retreat of Lindsay’s uncle, the first Earl of Mansfield, set in landscaped gardens with a view of St Paul’s Cathedral six miles away. Mansfield was Lord Chief Justice, and he made a number of landmark rulings on slavery that were among Britain’s first steps towards abolition. Did Belle’s presence in his home have anything to do with it? Plenty of his contemporaries thought so, and they didn’t admire him for it.

“Dido was very, very privileged,” says William Murray, a descendant of the earl and the son of the heir apparent. “She was in the top 5 per cent, perhaps the top 1 per cent, in terms of how she lived, her allowance, her dress, her education.” But Belle’s position was far from clear-cut…

Read the entire article here.

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I Named My Mixed-Race Daughter for a Slave-Trading Town

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-23 17:55Z by Steven

I Named My Mixed-Race Daughter for a Slave-Trading Town

The New York Times
2016-07-16

Susan Fales-Hill


An oil painting of Susan Fales-Hill’s great-great-great-grandfather hangs in her apartment in Manhattan. He turned out to be not as upstanding as she once thought. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

FOR nearly 20 years, my great-great-great-grandfather’s portrait has watched over me from my red dining room wall. With his high collar, ruffled cravat and black waistcoat, Samuel Fales, 1775-1848, is the very image of the upstanding 19th-century New England gentleman. An eminent merchant and alderman of Boston, he was the founder of the family’s shipping business. I’ve known his face and taken comfort in his smile since I was a child attending Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s in the 1960s.

Samuel Fales seemed utterly unperturbed by the changes the 20th century had wrought, among them his great-great-grandson’s unorthodox choice of bride: my mother, a black Haitian-American actress, and my brother and me, his mixed-race descendants. His portrait has stood as an emblem of our family’s pride in its history. “You have relatives on both sides of your family who fought in the American Revolution,” my mother would frequently remind me.

To honor my forebears, my husband and I named our only child Bristol, after the town in Rhode Island where some of the Faleses first settled in the 17th century. A year ago, I learned through new historical research that Bristol had in fact served as a main hub of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This gave me great pause. Had I done my daughter a dreadful disservice? Upon reflection, I decided that naming a multicultural African-American after a slave port was in fact redemptive, the ultimate act of reclamation.

It never occurred to me that my family might have participated in the port’s inhumane commerce…

Read the entire article here.

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PSA: Mixed Black Babies Will Never Put An End to Antiblack Racism

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2016-07-21 18:36Z by Steven

PSA: Mixed Black Babies Will Never Put An End to Antiblack Racism

Wear Your Voice: Intersectional Feminist Media
2016-07-21

Ashleigh Shackelford, Contributing Writer

Recently, there’s been numerous viral photos of white parents posting pictures of their mixed Black children with #AllLivesMatter political statements.

For example:

The picture to the left is of a Black, brown skin child holding a paper that reads, “Black lives only? I’M MIXED. So what about my white side? My mommy is white. My daddy is Black. They both matter to me. #AllLivesMatter.” This kind of manipulation of using your mixed Black child to denounce antiblack racism as a means to recenter your whiteness is violent. Any focus on trying to make #WhiteLivesMatter through the silencing of Black people — and manipulating your Black child to perpetuate that silence — is actually the same antiblack violence we’re fighting against. Also, mixed babies will never cure racism. EVER.

Slavery & white supremacist sexual violence already taught us that mixed children didn’t change shit.

This rhetoric that having mixed children is a step towards ending antiblackness is disgusting. The fact that hundreds of years of slavery, sexual violence, rape and forced reproduction against Black women and femmes did not prove to folks that mixed children didn’t change anything is disturbing. If anything, mixed Black children who are being read as “mixed” added numerous layers of violence into the context of white supremacist patriarchy. The physical and sexual violence against mixed children, or “mulattos,” only reaffirmed that Blackness will always separate you and therefore put you in a position to be harmed. Also, the one-drop rule as a sociopolitical principle of racial classification acknowledged any person with 1/32nd of Black blood is considered Black. This reminds us that Blackness is demonized even in the slightest because that’s how vile Blackness is in the construct of white supremacist patriarchy…

Read the entire article here.

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Commodification of the Black Body, Sexual Objectification and Social Hierarchies during Slavery

Posted in Articles, Economics, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-07-19 20:35Z by Steven

Commodification of the Black Body, Sexual Objectification and Social Hierarchies during Slavery

The Earlham Historical Journal: An Undergraduate Journal of Historical Inquiry
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana
Volume VII: Issue II (Spring 2015)
pages 21-43

Iman Cooper

The horror of the institution of slavery during the late eighteenth century was not that it displaced millions of African people from their homes to the US, but rather that it laid the foundation for the commodification and dehumanization of the black body that was culturally, socially, and politically maintained for hundreds of years to come. This essay will first explore the commodification of African captives as the foundation of my analysis, in order to later examine the social and political ramifications of the sexual objectification that was rampant during the slavery era, through the analysis of Harriet Jacob‘s slave narrative. Slavery had long-reaching effects on the conceptualization of the black body, which is later depicted by the emergence of the mulatto class. White slave owners executed their perceived right under the creation of commoditized black bodies to sexually abuse their slaves, producing mixed race (mulatto) children. Social, religious, economic, and political factors allowed the sustained commodification of black bodies to occur. As a result of commodification, black bodies were rendered disciplined subjects; beholden to the will of white men. Simultaneously, white planters‘ wives were socially conditioned to remain publicly silent in the face of their husband‘s betrayal and abuse; hence they often executed their anger on the black slave, further rendering the black body an object to be claimed by others to enact their will upon. Commodification of the black body at the start of the era allowed for the objectification of the black female body to continue throughout slavery, as portrayed by the simultaneous abuse of the masters and the subsequent retribution of the master‘s wives, which were enacted on the black female body…

Fetishization of the Black Female Slave and Mulatto Children

Black women were both fetishized and regarded as impure, when seen in contrast to the modesty of white women; therefore at the height of slavery, relationships with slave women were decidedly culturally unacceptable. However, just because these relationships were frowned upon does not mean that men resisted crossing the line of this social taboo; they did. The violation of this boundary by slave-owners was sometimes shamelessly explicit, while other times they attempted to keep their affairs secretive, for fear of both the societal backlash and the anger of their wives. As a result, the mulatto class grew extensively during the slavery era, becoming a visible marker of the extensiveness of this issue in the society. The skin color of these children served as a visible reminder for the wives and the community of their husband‘s infidelity. Masters sometimes took care of their mulatto children and eventually freed them, but more often than not, children either worked on the plantation, or (at their wives‘ insistence) were put up for auction and sold into slavery. As the mistress of the plantation, wives held a degree of power that could either improve the lives of slaves on her plantation, or create further harm and devastating destruction…

Read the entire article here.

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Crucifying the White Savior (Film)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-19 19:44Z by Steven

Crucifying the White Savior (Film)

Shadow and Act
2016-06-29

Andre Seewood

We no longer have to forgive them, for they know exactly what they are doing.

The new film by Gary Ross, “The Free State of Jones” is uncontestably a White savior film. Laid bare, “The Free State of Jones” is a simplistically constructed tale of a Confederate army deserter who eventually lives in a polygamous relationship with a Black former slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with whom he has a mixed race child and his White wife and their White child. The film’s story is a heroification of the 1862 true story of Newton Knight a real Confederate deserter from Jones County, Mississippi, who ironically didn’t actually “save” anyone, but instead merely prolonged the inevitable suffering of those Blacks and his mixed race progeny who were trapped within the White supremacist power structure of the United States of America.

The film builds its White savior character not in the broad conflicts between Confederate and Union soldiers, Free Black men and the KKK, but in small scenes of selfless heroism and demonstrative yet intimate “White-man- taking-charge- and-directing- the-actions- of-others” scenes that accumulate over the course of the two-and- a-half- hour film until there is no doubt about who is saving whom in a battle and who desperately needed to be protected from whom in a White supremacist society. Yet “The Free State of Jones” is an oddly racially segregated film that separates its Black token characters from its White fully developed characters, even as they fight (presumably) together to protect their illegal territory. There are certain battle and robbery scenes where no Black token is shown and others where Black tokens fight next to each other but are segregated from their fellow White fighters, revealing that Knight’s Free State was conditional at best. Moreover, the film never manages to convince the skeptical spectator that Knight’s higher ideals of freedom, autonomy, and “Every man is a man” equality were not simply rooted in his adulterous lust for a Black woman’s body.

However, if we take off the metaphorical rose colored glasses that director Gary Ross has placed in front of the camera, it is not too difficult to see that Newton Knight was merely a Confederate deserter who wanted to have his cake and eat it too- a Black mistress and a White wife – and through the benefit of his White privilege, he was allowed to do so with peculiar impunity until the end of his days…

Read the entire article here.

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The Faux-Enlightened Free State of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-16 01:19Z by Steven

The Faux-Enlightened Free State of Jones

The Atlantic
2016-06-28

Vann R. Newkirk II


STX Productions

Matthew McConaughey’s new movie is a predictable but instructive journey of white saviorhood.

“Somehow, some way, and some time, everybody is somebody else’s nigger,” is an actual quote that happens around midway through Free State of Jones. Uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s Newton Knight, a Confederate nurse-turned-deserter-turned-freedom-fighter in defense of one of his black comrades, it’s perhaps the most oblivious remark about race in a film that is remarkable mostly for its astounding oblivion about race. At that point, an hour and change into a narrative slog as thick as the Mississippi swamp where Knight and his diverse buddies hide, it becomes apparent that the film is going nowhere fast.

But to cast Free State of Jones aside as just another bad summer movie might be missing the point. Written and directed by Gary Ross, it’s held back by a slow, disjointed plot that doesn’t quite know what it wants to do, and it betrays no signs of having attempted to develop characters. But with its badness comes a real opportunity for instruction: The film’s ideas about race and its main character Knight are textbook examples of how not to have conversations about white privilege, “allyship,” and black struggle. As such, they invite a closer look…

Read the entire review here.

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Black and White in the Free State of Jones

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-16 00:00Z by Steven

Black and White in the Free State of Jones

Process: A Blog For American History
2016-07-14

Nina Silber, Professor of History
Boston University

I’ll confess: I was fully prepared to be disappointed with the recently-released Free State of Jones. Not out of any disrespect toward the excellent historical scholarship behind the film, including Victoria Bynum’s superb book by the same name which helped inspire filmmaker Gary Ross’ initial interest. Rather, my skepticism stems from a long history of bad Civil War films, a history that includes truly atrocious movies like Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, and Gods and Generals. As these films attest, Civil War film-making has frequently been an exercise in myth-making and obfuscation: these movies have, repeatedly, erased the central problem of slavery; ignored the critical role of African American slaves and freedpeople in fighting for emancipation; and portrayed Southern whites as the victims of a tyrannical Northern onslaught, both during but especially after the war had ended. These movies fit in a long history of what, in my recent JAH article, I refer to as “the imagined reconstitution of the nation,” an imagining that privileged the sectional reunification of whites while pushing African Americans to the sidelines. Free State of Jones, in stark contrast, generally gets the central historical narrative right and even manages to tell some complicated history in a moving and compelling manner. Most notably, it effectively pushes back on some of the most deeply entrenched myths of all: on the true meaning and significance of Reconstruction

Read the entire review here.

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Making Jokes and History in An Octoroon

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-15 01:23Z by Steven

Making Jokes and History in An Octoroon

African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)
2016-06-25

Christopher Bonner, Assistant Professor of History
University of Maryland

Last weekend I saw a performance of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins‘ play An Octoroon, which is a reimagining of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, a popular 1859 melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation. There is a kind of humor inherent in using pieces of The Octoroon, with its excessive melodrama and absurd stereotypes, such as the moments when Zoe, the titular octoroon, wallows in the tragedy of her “mulattoness.” But what I found most interesting about the play are the ways that Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins finds and creates humor for his enslaved characters, especially Dido and Minnie, a mismatched pair of enslaved women who are truly the stars of An Octoroon. By imagining these women’s stories, Jacobs-Jenkins transforms a racist play with a minor critique of southern justice into an exploration of enduring problems of racism and injustice and the misremembering of American slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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