Thankful for how far we’ve come
I went and saw the new film “Free State of Jones” this past weekend, starring superstar actor Matthew McConaughey as Mississippian Newt Knight.
Like most Southerners — and Mississippians in particular — I always cringe a bit when I hear Hollywood is going to do another movie about my state. For some reason, those Hollywood folks think they know what the South and Mississippi was like during the Civil War period. More often than not, they tend to get it wrong.
That doesn’t seem to be the case in this movie.
I lived in Jones County for a decade and when you move there, you quickly become familiar with the legend and story of Knight, who rebelled against the Confederacy after spending a year in the CSA army. For those unfamiliar, the story goes that Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County, went off to war like many other Southerners but became disillusioned with idea of fighting the Yankees after coming to the conclusion it was a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight.”
Knight deserted the CSA and returned home to Jones County following the Battle of Corinth and found out Confederates had been taking more than their 10 percent from the people back home. He became a renegade and other deserters from the CSA and run away slaves joined him as they battled the Confederate army. Knight and his band of followers took over a good portion of Jones and surrounding counties, including the town of Ellisville, and declared themselves their own country — the “Free State of Jones.”
After the war, Knight became a staunch supporter of rights for the freed slaves and especially their right to vote. He also wed a Creole woman named Rachel and together they had five children. He lived into his 90s and today there is a generation of Knights still in and around Jones County.
Although the movie does have a somewhat liberal feel to it in my opinion, it is very true to the actual events and the life of Knight. And if ever there were an actor alive today who resembled Knight, it would be McConaughey.
I came away from the movie thinking about how far we’ve come as a society from the conflict that divided us as a nation 150 years ago. But I also think about how far we still have to go with the things that still divide us as a society racially, politically and culturally.
Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.