‘Free State of Jones’ depicts realities of Reconstruction

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-03 20:54Z by Steven

‘Free State of Jones’ depicts realities of Reconstruction

The Post and Courier
Charleston, South Carolina

Adam Domby, Assistant Professor of History
College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina

Free State of Jones” is the film Reconstruction historians have been waiting for. Reconstruction, which encompassed the decade following the Civil War, is perhaps the most overlooked era in American history. It is the only period that doesn’t have a National Park Service site commemorating it.

Reconstruction, which witnessed the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the first widespread political enfranchisement of African-Americans, is ripe with stories for filmmakers.

Yet, since the racist celebration of the Ku Klux Klan in “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Gone With the Wind” (1939), no major Hollywood film has addressed the violence and drama of the era.

Director Gary Ross has begun to fix this oversight by making a Reconstruction film disguised as a Civil War action flick…

Read the entire article here.

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Charles Blow blows his horn in the New York Times

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-29 20:19Z by Steven

Charles Blow blows his horn in the New York Times

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners

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

In today’s New York Times, opinion editor Charles Blow delivers a harsh critique of the movie, Free State of Jones, arguing that its treatment of slavery in general and the rape of slave women in particular amounts to a “genteel treatment” of the institution. Blow then turns to my book “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, and accuses me of using “grossly inappropriate descriptors” to characterize what in reality was rape. To demonstrate, he quotes the following passage from my book:

Through encounters with women such as Rachel, Newt knew that white men regularly crossed the color line despite laws and social taboos that forbade interracial liaisons and marriages. Rachel, light-skinned and physically attractive, was the sort of slave after whom many white men lusted. The fact that she had a white-skinned daughter announced to interested men that she had already been “initiated” into the world of interracial relations. (page 86)

With great indignation, Blow then exclaims, “Encounters? Liaisons? Initiated? Sexual relations? As long as she was a slave this was rape! Always. Period.”

I responded in the comments section of his op ed with the following:…

Read the entire article here.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-28 01:41Z by Steven

White Savior, Rape and Romance?

The New York Times

Charles M. Blow

The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

It tries desperately to cast the Civil War, and specifically dissent within the Confederacy, as more a populism-versus-elitism class struggle in which poor white men were forced to fight a rich white man’s war and protect the cotton trade, rather than equally a conflict about the moral abhorrence of black slavery.

Throughout, there is the white liberal insistence that race is merely a subordinate construction of class, with Newt himself saying at the burial of poor white characters, “somehow, some way, sometime, everybody is just somebody else’s nigger.”

And, by extension, there is the lingering suggestion of post-racialism because, as the author Victoria E. Bynum writes in the book’s preface, the relationship between Newt and Rachel “added the specter of interracial intimacy to the story.”…

Read the entire review here.

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A Confederate Dissident, in a Film With Footnotes

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

A Confederate Dissident, in a Film With Footnotes

The New York Times

Jennifer Schuessler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire article here.

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Conversations: Victoria Bynum

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

Conversations: Victoria Bynum

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

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

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Not-So-Solid South

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2016-05-31 23:27Z by Steven

Not-So-Solid South

University of California, San Diego Alumni

Sherilyn Reus ’16

Historian Victoria Bynum, M.A. ’79, Ph.D. ’87, is a Civil War myth-buster.

Folklore is deeply embedded in American culture—whether told at the dinner table, around the campfire or just before bedtime, tall tales and legends about the nation’s history have the power to build a common identity and unify its people. For Victoria Bynum, M.A. ’79, Ph.D. ’87, American folklore is not just an opportunity for a great story, but a chance to look more closely at the finer threads of our heritage.

Interestingly enough for a noted historian of the 19th-century American South, Bynum was born and raised mostly in California. Her father, however, was born in Jones County, Miss., a location steeped in history and primarily known for its anti-Confederate rebellion during the Civil War. For Bynum, who gravitated toward history throughout college, the dynamics and repercussions of the uprising were captivating. “Here was a story that countered conventional images of the Civil War and ordinary white Southerners,” she says. After hearing a plethora of different sides to the story, Bynum was convinced that Jones County was begging for a deeper historical analysis…

Read the entire article here.

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Loyal Southerners – a presentation by Marvin T. Jones

Posted in History, Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2016-05-04 01:42Z by Steven

Loyal Southerners – a presentation by Marvin T. Jones

Rock Creek Nature Center
5200 Glover Road, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20015
Saturday, 2016-05-07, 09:30-11:00 EDT (Local Time)

Marvin T. Jones, Executive Director
Chowan Discovery Group

The story of the most famous of Southern Unionists, Newton Knight (left) will be screened on film. It stars Mathew McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Release date is June 24.

Very little has been told and much has been suppressed about Southerners who defended the Union during the Civil War. On June 24, the release of the movie The Free State of Jones brings to the public the best known story of resisters to the Confederacy. In preparation for the movie’s release, Marvin T. Jones of Chowan Discovery will present an overview of loyal southern groups who operated from North Carolina’s Winton Triangle area to Texas including Jones’ Newton Knight and his Knight Company…

For more information, click here.

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‘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


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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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

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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