Gugu Mbatha-Raw to Star Opposite Matthew McConaughey in Gary Ross’ ‘Free State of Jones’ (Exclusive)

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-07 19:53Z by Steven

Gugu Mbatha-Raw to Star Opposite Matthew McConaughey in Gary Ross’ ‘Free State of Jones’ (Exclusive)

The Wrap: Covering Hollywood

Jeff Sneider, Film Reporter

Scott Stuber and Jon Kilik are producing the Civil War tale for Robert Simonds’ STX Entertainment

Hot off a pair of acclaimed performances in “Beyond the Lights” and “Belle,” Gugu Mbatha-Raw will star opposite Matthew McConaughey in Gary Ross’ Civil War movie “Free State of Jones,” TheWrap has learned.

Robert Simonds’ STX Entertainment is producing the $65 million movie and co-financing with foreign sales company IM Global. STX will handle domestic distribution, while IM Global will handle foreign rights. CAA brokered the domestic deal…

Based on a true story, “Free State of Jones” will star McConaughey as Newton Knight and Mbatha-Raw as Rachel, a slave whose relationship with Knight played a central part in his life and in his armed rebellion against the Confederacy during the Civil War…

Read the entire article 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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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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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: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi

Posted in History, Live Events, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2012-02-16 01:17Z by Steven

Littefield Lecture: The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi

Littlefield Lecture
University of Texas, Austin
Applied Computational Engineering & Sciences Building (ACE), Avaya Auditorium 2.302
2012-03-06, 16:00-18:00 CST (Local Time)

Victoria Bynum, Professor Emerita
Texas State University, San Marcos

Dr. Bynum will be delivering this year’s Littlefield Lectures for the History Department of the University of Texas, Austin.  The lectures are based on research from my last two books, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War and The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

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Charles Marsh recounts the formation and activities of The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

Posted in History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-11 02:37Z by Steven

Charles Marsh recounts the formation and activities of The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

The Civil Rights Movement as Theological Drama
The Project on Lived Theology
University of Virginia

Charles Marsh

In 1956, a new organization appeared, predisposed to the same political concerns articulated by the Citizen’s Council, but now underwritten by the state legislature.  The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was formed to broaden the scope of protecting “the Southern Way of Life.”  The commission expressed purpose was “to do and perform any and all acts and things deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the State of Mississippi, and her sister states, from encroachment thereon by the Federal Government”; nevertheless, it operated as “something akin to NKVD among the cotton patches,” as journalist Wilson Minor put it.  With an extensive surveillance network solidly in place, the Sovereignty Commission vigilantly monitored civil rights activists and any Mississippi citizens suspected of heterodoxy–“persons whose utterances or actions indicate they should be watched with suspicion on future racial attitudes.”  The commission pursued its ordained work by dispatching investigators and spies to gather information on civil rights workers, white liberals, and anyone else suspected of racial indiscretion.  By 1967, the commission had amassed an archive of more than ten thousand reports on people who worked for or represented “subversive, militant, or revolutionary groups.”  (By 1974, the files would grow to 87,000 names.)
Although the Sovereignty Commission’s principal motivation was “to prevent encroachment upon the rights of this and other states by the Federal Government” (as the charter stated), its obsession with racial purity could not be entirely explained by state’s rights fervor.  The commission’s agents seemed to spend as much energy tracking down reports of mixed-race babies and children as it did investigating the activities of subversive, militant and revolutionary groups.  Sadly, a reading of the available Sovereignty Commission files regarding rumors of interracial sex show us (in Adam Nossiter’s words) “cool accounts of lives damaged, destroyed, or threatened because black men were suspected of consorting with white women.”

Then there are reports that are stranger than fiction.  In , the director of the commission himself, Erle Johnston, Jr., wrote an eight page, single spaced report in December of 1963 explorinthe case of the woman Louvenia K. and her two sons, Edgar and Randy Edg the racial composition of the boys and their mother…

Read the entire article here.

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Rachel Knight: Slave, White Man’s Mistress and Mother to a Movement

Posted in History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Slavery, United States, Women on 2010-11-11 22:26Z by Steven

Rachel Knight: Slave, White Man’s Mistress and Mother to a Movement

Johnathon Odell: Discovering Our Stories

John Odell

Rachel’s Children

I can’t help but think of the Old Testament Abraham when I hear stories about Newt Knight. Both men sired children by a wife and a slave. In Newt’s case it was Serena and Rachel. With Abraham, Sara and Hagar. According to religious texts, one of these women went on to become the matriarch of God’s chosen people. Exactly which one, depends on what you happen to be reading, your Bible or your Koran. Jews and Christians claim the wife Sarah and Muslims claim the handmaiden Hagar. Several Crusades were launched trying to settle that matter.

In Jones County, there’s always been a fierce crusade of competing stories about Rachel, the white account versus the black account. Like most stories, the white interpretation gets written down and called history, while the black story gets handed down by word-of-mouth and called folklore.

Growing up as a white boy, I swore by Ethel Knight’s written-down version. According to her, Rachel was a light-skinned temptress with blue-green eyes and flowing chestnut hair. But evil as the day is long. Ethel alternately calls her a vixen, a witch, a conjure woman, a murderer and a strumpet.

Serena, Newt’s white wife, is but an innocent captive, forced a gunpoint to live in this den of iniquity, and like Newt, powerless as Rachel’s sorcery wrecked and degraded their family.

As a child of Jim Crow, this narrative satisfied my budding sensibilities about race. In my white-bubble world, there could never be any possibility of true love or affection between a white man and a black woman. Nor would any white man sire children by a black woman and then choose to live amongst his mixed-race offspring. Unless of course, the black woman had either seduced him unmercifully or mysteriously conjured him, or both. It just wasn’t possible that he actually loved her, or her children.

Imagine my surprise when I heard, as they say, “the rest of the story.” It was as shocking as sitting down in church and listening to the preacher get up and declare from the pulpit that Abraham’s birthright went to Hagar’s kid Ishmael, instead of Sarah’s son, Isaac, and it was we Christians who were the infidels!  Boy would that turn some peoples world upside down!…

Read the entire essay here.

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