The Free State of Jones

Confessions of a Small-Town Texas Gadfly

By Victoria Bynum

 

Professor Stauffer is angry at me; I mean really angry. He’s furious that I don’t think more highly of his and Sally Jenkins’s book, State of Jones, but especially that I have the temerity to publicly say so. To get it all off his chest, he just let off more steam on page 2 of the December 10th issue of the Jones County ReView.

Why, he even called me a gadfly—again. His definition: one who “builds her reputation by constantly annoying, irritating, or slandering others.” Well, I prefer Socrates’ description of the gadfly’s role:  “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” Under those terms, I plead guilty, having criticized the sloppiness of his research and the distortions of his arguments. That’s what reviewers (and gadflies) are expected to do, when warranted, in our profession.

Professor Stauffer claims that he and Sally Jenkins have in turn treated my work with respect. Go back and listen to you and your co-author’s remarks about me in your interviews last May and June with Mike Noirot of This Mighty Scourge, and on NPR’s Diane Rehm show. Who are you kidding?

Aside from gadfly, what I really am is a history professor who has taught at the same university (in that “small Texas town” he sneeringly mentions) for almost 24 years; a historian who has written three books published by the University of North Carolina Press, a premier academic press.

I could say more about my credentials, but then I’d begin to sound like Stauffer, who ritualistically trots his out. So let’s get to the point. Mr. Stauffer says that I have slandered him. As he kindly explains for us, that means “saying something false or malicious that damages somebody’s reputation.”  He then proceeds to attribute words to me that I have never uttered (how’s that for slander?)! Such as that I “dismissed” him and Ms Jenkins as “Yankees and carpetbaggers.” Mr. Stauffer is not only confused, he repeats himself a lot. You can read my response to these and other phony charges by clicking here.

There is a new charge against me. Stauffer now accuses me of having launched a “blitzkreig” against his and Jenkins’s work on the Internet. Gee, all I did was review their book. They were the ones who asked Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory to let them post a response to that 3-part review, and Kevin graciously did just that. An internet debate followed in which the authors and I, and anyone else who cared to, participated.

So, what’s all this talk about me refusing to debate? Seems to me we’ve already had that debate. Virtually every charge that Stauffer raises anew in his ReView column I have answered either on Renegade South or Civil War Memory. In any case, Mr. Stauffer has never extended an invitation, as he claims, to debate me face-to-face. Now, Mark Thornton, the editor of the Jones County ReView, did once extend such an invitation—Oh, my, has Mr. Stauffer appropriated Mr. Thornton’s idea as his own? Tsk, tsk, imagine that.

Having misrepresented not just the history of Jones County, but also the history of the present debate, Stauffer goes on to confidently proclaim my book, Free State of Jones, a failure. Most remarkable are his standards for that judgment: sales figures and fame. You see, my university press book hasn’t sold nearly the copies that his mass-produced, media-hyped Doubleday version has.

Here I was, thinking it was great that people from around the United States continue to contact me eight years after Free State of Jones was published. But, no, Stauffer assures us that my book was “virtually unknown outside of Jones County, the Texas town where she teaches, and a community of some 50 scholars who write on Southern Unionists.” Why, he says, I was just a poor little nobody who had never even had my name in the New York Times (just imagine!) before he and Ms. Jenkins opened the door to fame and fortune for me. Silly me for thinking that fame and fortune have about as much to do with high-quality scholarship and history as pop stardom does with perfect pitch. Mr. Stauffer can explain that, too: he says I simply don’t understand his book’s “genre.”

Despite Professor Stauffer’s tactics, which represent the worst in academic class snobbery, one might expect that he, an academic himself, would understand that the vast majority of historians don’t spend years in graduate school because they hope to write bestsellers that will entertain the masses.

Which reminds me. Years ago, when I was in the final years of my Ph D work at the University of California, San Diego, I proudly wore a shirt sold at conferences by Radical History Review.  The logo on the front featured Karl Marx holding a copy of the Review and the words “Earn Big Money; Become a Historian.” My fellow graduate students and I loved that shirt—it epitomized the passion we felt for the research and writing of history. No, we were not in it for the money.

Vikki Bynum, wearing her Radical History T-shirt in 1986.

*radical history t-shirt

The same, evidently, can’t be said for all history professors. For some, it is, rather, all about the money.

It all comes down to this: John Stauffer and I have very different approaches to the profession of history, and I have a very different personal story from his, one that he apparently can’t fathom from his lofty Harvard perch. You see, I earned a PhD the hard way—as a divorced mother of two children and the daughter of parents who, through no fault of their own, never graduated from high school. It may surprise Mr. Stauffer to learn that I never aspired to be either an Ivy League professor or a bestselling author; that my hard-won goals were to write honest, deeply-researched histories about ordinary people of the past who acted in extraordinary ways, and to teach students from backgrounds similar to mine that intellectuals are not confined to elite institutions.

Mr. Stauffer, in contrast, evidently loves to write about poor, downtrodden folks from the past, yet exhibits contempt for present-day renegades who have beat the odds, achieved success on their own terms, and have the gall to proclaim a flawed book just that—no matter who wrote it.

Why, Mr. Stauffer, you’re all lit up like a Christmas tree, and all because of the words of this little old Texas gadfly.

With the sting of truth,

Vikki Bynum

*To order your own t-shirt, visit Radical History Review and scroll to the bottom of their page.

25 replies »

  1. Awaiting a follow-up photo of you wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the ‘gadfly’ slogan. I mean mine, not the one from Socrates.

    After reading the latest tirade in the Jones County ReView, I have concluded John Stauffer is the Harvard equivalent of Glenn Beck: overly emotional, selective with facts, freewheeling with accusations, and seeing conspiracies everywhere.

    • I agree, Ed; John Stauffer continues to reveal himself to be interested in something other than the truth. Perhaps his goal is to force me to continually correct the record of what I have and have not said in order to shift the focus away from that book he co-authored.

      You did, indeed, provide me with a great gadfly logo for a brand new t-shirt! I’m going to have to find a way to display it on Renegade South for all to see.

      Vikki

  2. Well thank you for your work. Had it not been for you I would not have known about my Collins family. Also I am a History Major, perhaps it is from my Bynum genes :)

    • Clay,

      You are among the many people out there who inspired me to begin blogging. I have found Renegade South a wonderful way to communicate and share information and ideas about family histories.

      Really glad to hear you are a history major, and I appreciate your support for my work!

      Vikki

  3. HELLO VIKKI,

    I HAVE BEEN MUCH ENTERTAINED AND AMUSED BY YOUR REPLY TO JOHN STAUFFER’S “DEFENSE” OF HIS RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOK.

    ALTHOUGH I HAVE NOT READ EITHER OF YOUR BOOKS, THIS DEBATE HAS REALLY WHETTED MY APPETITE TO DO SO.

    HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT MANY PEOPLE WILL DO, OR SAY ANYTHING, TO AVOID THE TRUTH, IN ORDER TO GUARD THEIR FRAGILE EGOS, NO MATTER THE COST TO THEIR SOULS?

    I THINK THAT FEW PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO SEE THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THEIR TUNNELS.

    I SAY TO YOU, ” GO GADFLY!”

    INDEED, I ADMIRE YOUR SPIRIT VERY MUCH!

    I ALSO ENJOY YOUR SITE VERY MUCH.

    THANK YOU, FOR KNOWING HOW IMPORTANT IS THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER.

  4. Hi Lea,

    I am so pleased that you are enjoying the ongoing debate between myself and the authors of the book, State of Jones. I’ve been concerned that having to stop and respond to John Stauffer’s recent screeds has disrupted the flow of the blog, and that readers might find them distracting, even irritating. Yet, I feel I cannot let Mr. Stauffer’s charges go unchallenged.

    Thanks so much for taking time to voice your support!

    Vikki

  5. Dear Vikki, I just want to say I don’t understand the “dog fight” that Mr. Stauffer is trying to perpetrate. Seems like there’s only one dog in that fight, and it’s his, so it’s really just a poorly trained dog demanding attention. It reminds me of that old saying about “protests too much”. If his purpose is to promote his book, I think that inadvertently his is promoting your more scholarly one. I have read both books, as well as Edith Knight’s, and I think yours is much more scholarly. Mr. Stauffer’s reads more like a fictionalized “based on” Hollywood pre-screen script, which I think it was, and it struck me that most of the “scholarly” work consisted of quotes from your work. I’d suggest that anyone interested could go to Amazon.com and read the unbiased reviews there of each work and decide which they want to buy and which they want to check out of the library. I did enjoy the descriptions of the Jones County landscape in Edith Knight’s book, but don’t know how accurate they were. Just speaking as a person who had temporary family tree roots in Jones County during that period in question and who enjoys and appreciates how your brought that period and those people to life for me and brought me a little more knowledge of my tenuous connection to Jones County.

  6. I recall back before the book came out that the publisher offered me a review copy, and I refused because the press documents gave the impression (to me anyway) that the book was a highly speculative half novel/half scholarly affair that would interest me not at all. I wish I still had the .pdf files to go back and look through. I deleted them, thinking the book would be yet another one of those quickly remaindered and forgotten large press books. I was therefore completely surprised at its claims to high level seriousness as well as its popular reach.

    It is odd to me that Stauffer seems to style his own book as something very different than even his own publisher promoted it as.

  7. Tim , it’s always good to hear from someone who has read both books and can offer clear descriptions of how the books differ from one another.

    There is no question that many people prefer history that reads like a novel, but I do not write such books. I’m glad there are folks like you who are not put off by the word “scholarly.”

    My criticisms of State of Jones, however, have nothing to do with its novelistic prose, but with its authors’ claims to have produced a solid work of scholarship.

    It’s in this regard that I find Drew’s comments interesting. Indeed, just what sort of book was State of Jones intended to be? Who conceived the idea for it, and why were two so different authors (who had never before met) chosen to collaborate? Had either author ever even heard of the Free State of Jones before they were contacted? None of this really matters, except insofar as the answers might shed light on why so uneven a work was produced.

    Note to readers: Drew Waggenhoffer is the moderator of the blog, “Civil War Books and Authors,” at http://cwba.blogspot.com/

    Thank you both for your thoughtful comments.

    Vikki

  8. Vikki, thanks for your comments. I need to correct myself – when I said Edith Knight of course I meant Ethel Knight and her book The Echo of the Black Horn. I guess I need a few lessons in scholarship!

    • Tim,

      I knew you meant Ethel Knight, and probably most readers did. Hey, I’ve messed up names a time or two myself, but I get to go back and correct them, even after I’ve hit the “submit” button!

      Vikki

  9. Vikki,

    Stauffer’s latest screed is not the product of a scholarly mind. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of criticism and debate in academic endeavor, it overflows with ad hominem and the corpses of slaughtered strawmen, it takes the measure of historical work by applying standards relevant to entertainment media, and it is hysterical.

    Old myths die very, very hard — especially, it seems, when their re-telling makes good popcorn entertainment. Civil War scholarship owes you greatly for faithfully keeping the record straight.

    –Ingrid

    • Ingrid,

      You already know how much I appreciate your participation in the discussions about State of Jones. I will just add that your father would be proud to know that his daughter is fighting a battle for historical integrity that was dear to his heart.

      Vikki

  10. Vikki-

    This debate has appeal with people who are interested in intellectual integrity. What I can’t get over is how sanctimonious Professor Stauffer and Ms. Jenkins have been in their characterization of their work as being somehow better because it appeals to a mass audience and that it “corrects inaccuracies” in the history of the Jones County, a place that I, as a Native Texan, never knew about before a year ago and I had ancestors participating in the situation! How can a Harvard professor and a Texas journalist with no apparent connection (other than the money its story is generating for them) to Jones County make some of their criticisms of your and others works on the topic? Especially of works that the author spent a great deal of time and effort in doing research that they, apparently, did not have the time to do properly in the interest of churning out a story that would match…well, how did Ingrid put it…”popcorn entertainment?”

    Thanks to you, I have a deeper connection to the “Collins boys” of my ancestry and have a better understanding of my own dissenting personality because I know I come from a long line of people who “buck the system.” Based partially on your work here and in print, I have actually changed my approach to how I study and teach Civil War history with the understanding that it was no “black hats vs. white hats” situation. (Should that be “blue hats vs. gray hats?”) Of course, according to Professor Stauffer, that I appreciate your work is probably because I graduated from a “small town Texas university” (Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches; Class of 1997) and didn’t have much culture in the small East Texas town of Center. I suppose some academics would think I go deer hunting too often, drive too big a pick-up and dip too much snuff to be well educated.

    No, I don’t adhere to the idea that the name of the school on the diploma is indicative of the quality of education one receives at an institution. Perhaps Professor Stauffer would do well to look to himself and his behavior as being the reason some have such a low opinion of most in academia.

    BTW, your recent post was in my e-mail inbox this morning, courtesy of Rick Shenkman and the folks at George Mason University’s “History News Network.” You can see the repost here: http://hnn.us/roundup/14.html#121511.

    I apologize for the length of this post, but I’m one really ticked off small-town Texan!

  11. Thank you for your forceful comment, Greg! It is just the right length.

    I especially appreciate your comments about learning the long history of your own ancestors’ traditions of dissent from reading my version of the Free State of Jones. Stauffer and Jenkins have pointed out time and again that their book cites the Official Records of the Confederate and Union armies vastly more times than mine does. Of course, there’s a clear reason for that: the first four chapters of my book trace the origins of traditions of dissent among Jones County families, especially the Collinses from whom you descend.

    I chose to write a history of a community insurrection rather than about one “Great Man.” Nor does my book focus on battlefields. Rather, I traced the major families back to their participation in the Regulator Movement, the Revolution, their experiences of the frontier, and their participation in religious, class, and kin-based schisms. I believe that the Free State of Jones becomes a much more complicated and revealing story when one engages in that level of research. I cited the Official Records wherever I found mention of desertion and insurrection in the Jones County region, whereas Jenkins and Stauffer used them extensively to recreate the battles of Corinth, Vicksburg, etc.

    My greatest reward for writing The Free State of Jones will always be the many emails and letters I’ve received over the years from readers such as yourself.

    Vikki

  12. Hello Ms. Bynum. I have just ordered a copy of your book, the Free State of Jones and am anxiuously awaiting its delivery. I am a great-great grandson of Jasper Collins. My great grandmother was Theodocia Melissa Collins who married Thomas Lyon. I have recently begun a medically imposed retirement and have started digging earnestly for information on my family history. It seems the Lyon side was also involved with Newt Knight, but I am not sure where to go for info. Several years ago, I located the memorial marker for my great-great grandfather William Avery Lyon on the confederate mound in Oakwood cemetery in Chicago (Camp Douglas) and made some rubbings. Is there a place that I can search to find the roster of the 7th Mississippi and/or determine if he was a member of Knight’s Army? The records show him as a deserter durign the war and returning, I am assuming as by force.

  13. Steve,

    So nice to hear from you; the Lyon family is an interesting branch of the Collins family, and makes an appearance in my upcoming book. Most of my information comes from Dorothy Thomas, Donnis Lyon, and Keith Lyon, all descendants of Theodocia Collins and Thomas J. Lyon.

    I took notes some years ago from William A. Lyon’s Civil War records. As you already know, he served in the 7th battalion Mississippi Infantry, and died a POW in 1865 at Camp Douglas, Illinois.

    According to descendants, the Knight roster, and William A. Lyon’s service records, he never joined the Knight Company. His military record shows him AWOL between Sept. and Oct. 1862 (following the battle of Corinth), but he returned to duty soon after (by Nov. 1862) without a trial, and before the Knight Company was organized. He served at Kennesaw Mountain with the 7th battalion on July 3, 1864, where he was captured and then imprisoned at Camp Douglas. He died there of pneumonia on April 19, 1865.

    Confederate military records can be viewed at either the National or state archives. (I purchased my reel from the National Archives.) They are probably posted online, but I have not checked there.

    After William’s death, his son, Thomas Jasper Lyon, reportedly became a “surrogate son” to Jasper J. Collins, 1st Sgt. to Newt Knight, and Thomas’s father-in-law.

    Hope this has been helpful, and thanks for commenting!

    Vikki

  14. I too am grateful for your blog…I was so excited to find my great great grandfather, Simeon Collins, in your writing !! I am new at family history research and was very proud of my Collins connection and noticed Greg Rowe’s comment on the “buck the system” personality…I too have that. To me some of the statements made on the blog remind me that prejudice is still at work whether it be your place of education, color, sex, etc…what a shame….have we not learned anything from the very history we are so intrigued with?
    I live in Jasper, Texas where in 1998, the horrible crime against James Byrd Jr. took place. In 1997, my husband and I, with several other families started a church, Harvest Church. It now is the largest multicultural church in our area with a multicultural pastoral staff, serving 600 regular member attendance on a weekly basis. I am very proud of our part in “bucking the system” because in the south especially, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week.

    • Gwen,

      How wonderful that you and others founded the Harvest Church in Jasper, Texas. As you know so well from your efforts, much of the most meaningful social change takes place at the grass roots level when folks put their ideals into practice.

      Your question, “have we not learned anything from the very history we are so intrigued with?” goes right to the heart of the matter. The authors’ exaggerations and distortions of evidence in State of Jones, followed by Professor Stauffer’s outright false accusations against me, contradict their stated passion for “truth,” while insulting their readers’ intelligence.

      By the way, many Collins descendants feel, as you and Greg Rowe do, that the family’s commitment to standing up for their beliefs has been passed along from generation to generation. The Collins’s long history of dissent certainly indicates as much–I think Socrates would designate them gadflies!

      Thank you for your comments,
      Vikki

  15. Vikki,

    Well, I have to say. This is the first time in my life that I have counted among my friends, a “gadfly”. I don’t quite know what to expect! (Happy New Year, by the way, and thanks for being a great “cyber” friend.)

    I enjoyed this post very much because it is about you. I regret the genesis of the post, however, and can only add to the conversation that I do not trust the work of an historian who cannot see his or her own biases.

    Many of the comments of these two authors reveal a shallow understanding of the history that they are portraying. In contrast, the comments of your contributors are very insightful. There also seems to be what almost amounts to a need, on the part of the two writers of State of Jones, to finally unmask the “real” you. I suppose that this would be so that you are discredited, once and for all (in their eyes), leaving their interpretation of the history of Newt and Rachel Knight as the valid interpretation. I cannot think of another reason for the continued attacks. The real you, of course, would be a neo Confederate, Lost Cause adherent, as all white Southerners, past and present, must, indeed, be, when all is said and done, according to some. (except, of course, for Newt Knight, a Northern abolitionist in disguise)

    You know, and I know, that this is not so, and so do many other people. That it remain so, however, as a widely held perception in our collective national narrative of who we are, somehow serves a purpose, and I suspect that this is why the perception is so well entrenched and difficult to overcome.

    I am not connected to Jones County, Mississippi through my ancestry. But I am connected to ancestors from the mountains of Virginia who have an intergenerational history of dissent, so, in a way, I am connected to the descendants of Jones County.

    I have recently come back from a trip to Virginia renewed, after visiting the African American community in our area with which my family has been intimately connected for generations. I categorically take the word of the men and women from this community concerning who my ancestors were and who they were not, over that of a man or woman from outside of the community who thinks that he or she knows our history.

    The men and women in this community experienced some of the worst hatred during Jim Crow, and they overcame it. Many of them were friends and colleagues of my parents and grandparents, and I consider them family, as they also consider me. I am who I am today because a part of my upbringing–and a big part of it, too–took place with the men and women from the African American community, in their world, on their terms. It was a privilege, is the only way that I can put it, and that is a gross understatement. Only they have the power and the authority to say to me what did or did not occur.

    Always, I go to the community prepared to accept whatever pronouncement (or condemnation) that its members may have that might change the past as I know it on the spot. And always–always–the graciousness of spirit and the unconditional love that are shown to me by the members of my extended African American family bring only more love, and a deeper admiration and respect for a community that truly did lay the foundation for our nation’s history as the nation should be, and not as it became.

    Only the African American community has the right to condemn, to be angry, to forgive, to not forgive, to be self righteous if they so choose, and to hold all accountable–and not the white community from any area of the nation. It is, in fact, an outrageous appropriation of African American history for one segment of the white population to condemn another segment of the white population based upon the history of slavery and race, since the entire country has a racist past, and present. Perhaps if anything good comes out of this controversy over Jones County, it will be this realization.

    There are still plenty of actual neo Confederate Lost Cause adherents in the South, and their influence must be continually fought, not to mention racists who are extremely dangerous, as indicated in a previous comment. Yet, when attacks come against someone who is most definitely not a neo Confederate, such as you, it is time to speak out.

    I find it very difficult to speak out in the blog forum, because the history that I know firsthand is so personal and did not come out of a book. Still, I do feel a need to speak out, and I do so. Thus, this comment.

    Ironically, one of the reasons why your research is so important, is that you have defined who is and who is not a neo Confederate, and you have explored the historical roots that led to this development. Knowledge is power, and education is the key to preventing a constant repetition of the past. If more young white Southerners began to understand who their ancestors really were, and what slavery really was, the neo Confederate view of history would become obsolete. I think that this is, in fact, in the process of taking place, at least in my area.

    Another look at the history of slavery in the North is warranted as well, along with the legacy of racism that grew out of that history. The most truthful, courageous, and poignant look at the history of slavery in the North that I have encountered is the exploration by members of the DeWolf family of the family’s slave trading past. As has been stated by several members of the DeWolf family: too many people see the North as free of this history, or as an area of the country that redeemed itself, once and for all, through the Civil War (which is true, to a certain extent, in my opinion, yet is a point that is totally lost when self righteousness enters the conversation)

    As many new studies continue to be done, and as older historical works become more widely known, I believe that the burden of history will become the burden of all Americans, not just the burden of the African American community, whose members have borne the true burden of American history for centuries, and that the answer to the question of why racism still exists in every area of the United States will become quite apparent: we are still living with a false knowledge of the past, and very few are willing to search for our nation’s actual history, or to accept responsibility for the past when the actual history is finally known (For example, one study revealed that one in four white Northerners owned slaves in the years before slavery was abolished in the North. In addition, everyday people in the North not only bought “shares” in the slave trade, but made the chains and whips that white Southerners used to beat their slaves, even after slavery was abolished in the North. It is hard to believe that those white men and women of the North did not know what the shares they bought were for, or how the chains and whips that they helped to manufacture were to be used, just as it is impossible to believe, based upon overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that white Southerners did not beat, rape, and murder the men and women whom they held in bondage. These are but a few of the sobering facts that surely all Americans must address at some point. The African American community of the US has not only long addressed these facts; but lived the history, and it is up to the white community to stop passing the blame for racism from region to region. A man of Asian descent, and whose ancestors clearly were not slaveholders, put the case succinctly. He said that everyone in this nation–everyone–even recent immigrants, has a responsibility to African American men and women, and to Indigenous men and women to end the disparity that exists, because we all live in a prosperous nation due to a past that included the brutal taking of land, and the equally brutal enslavement of others. I agree with that assessment.)

    In addition to taking the word of the African American community about the past over that of men and women with questionable motives, I also take the word of the dedicated, principled historians whom I have met in the blogosphere–many of them white Northerners–who understand what I have just said, and who know–and more importantly acknowledge–the complexity of our history, and who portray that history in its complexity. That takes courage as well, and I have seen plenty of courage displayed by historians who challenge even those in their own profession. When the history being portrayed begins to assume what I call a “formulaic” aspect, it is then that I know that the history is false.

    I remember when schools were integrated. I remember the racial epithets that were hurled at my African American friends and family. And I remember being called some names myself. I also remember Boston, 1975, as was recently referenced by an historian for whom I have great respect on the site of one of your fellow bloggers, for whom I have equal respect, and I remember Watts, too. The entire country was embroiled in a racist hate fest in the 1960s and 1970s, and the ugly face of racism showed itself from Birmingham to South Boston to LA, and Memphis, and back to Birmingham. In addition, that racism was not (and still is not) confined to white vs. black, and anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling himself or herself. Just last summer, a Cherokee friend of mine who wears his hair long and past his shoulders in the traditional manner, and sometimes in braids, depending upon ceremonial requirements, tried to get a room in four different motels on a trip out West with no luck. Finally, his wife (who is white) went to register, after the couple were totally exhausted, and they got a room. Again, that was in the year 2009. Not 1969. The racist past of our nation has not been overcome yet–not by a long shot.

    I like what I perceive to be your definition of an intellectual, Vikki. And, (if I read you correctly) it coincides with my own definition–ie, a man or woman who is involved in, and actively engaged with, the world within which he or she lives. I formed my concept of the intellectual through my interaction with a couple who defected from Russia in the 1970s, and who introduced me to the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. To this couple (both of whom were friends of mine, and who attended Harvard) an intellectual was not bound by socio-economic class, and certainly not by either the possession, or lack of possession, of a degree. The American (and European) idea of the intellectual as a man or woman who is above others, was an idea foreign to them. Socio-economic class–and the idea of class in general–as a defining category that must be satisfactorily met in order for a man or woman to qualify as one who belongs to a group of people known as “intellectuals” was completely absent from their thinking. In fact, I am quite sure that this couple from Leningrad would consider a certain gadfly professor from a small Texas university to be an intellectual of the highest degree. I know that I do.

    Thanks for your hard work, and for your lifelong devotion to your area of study, Vikki.

    Didn’t mean to go long. It just happened. If the comment is too lengthy, please let it be a conversation between two gadflies, delete it or save it as you see fit, and move on. I am simply tired of the hypocrisy. Professors from Harvard don’t have to go all of the way to Jones County, Mississippi to study racism. All they have to do is go down to Harvard Square, get on the red line, switch over to the orange line (or it used to be) and go to Roxbury, Massachusetts, like I did by accident one day in 1979, and discovered a world of poverty so devastating that it is still difficult for me to believe that that poverty exists in a nation so wealthy. Roxbury, Massachusetts had, in those days (and still may have, I do not know) much in common with Jones County, Mississippi.

    Thanks, Vikki.

    Until next time,

    Sherree

  16. You’re welcome, Vikki. It is not much, but it is the least I can do to thank you for your decades of dedication and hard work. Sherree

  17. Dear Miss Vikki: Thanks for all your information. Please tell me when the movie “The Free State of Jones” will begin showing. I am a native of Jones County, working on my family tree, and extremely interested in its history.
    As a boy, and a young married man, I remember hearing my parents talk about Newt Knight. “The State of Jones” was a gift to me and I have just finished reading it and all that you have said and shown on your blog has been most interesting. Where may I find a copy of your book? Thanks.
    Bill Brown

  18. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your interest in my version of the Free State of Jones, and for taking the time to comment here on Renegade South.

    Since you are a native of Jones County, I’d be surprised if you are not related to either a member of the Knight band, or to one of its active opponents.

    My new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, also contains much on Newt Knight and Jones County. You can purchase it, or the earlier Free State of Jones (2001), on Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher, University of North Carolina Press, at:

    http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/book_detail?title_id=1694#reviews

    Hope you have much success tracing your family tree.

    Vikki

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