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Archive for the ‘Multiracial Families/Communities’ Category
Posted in Announcements, Multiracial Families/Communities, The Free State of Jones, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, civil war dissent, free state of jones, guerrillas, long shadow of the civil war, mixed race, onlinecoursesnet, Southern Unionists on January 22, 2011 | 5 Comments »
Posted in Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, tagged calvin mcqueen, daniel williams, david williams, diza ann mcqueen, diza ann williams, james maness, margaret ellen williams, marshall williams, mary ann mcqueen, mixed race families, montgomery county NC, moses williams, multiracial people, one drop rule, sampson williams, sarah williams, shadrach williams, william m williams, wilson williams, wilson wright on December 24, 2010 | 7 Comments »
Please read the preceding essay, “The One Drop Rule Revisited,” first!
Early in my genealogy research, which began in 1978, I ran into a brick wall in regard to my great-grandfather, Sampson Williams. I found his 1879 marriage license from Montgomery County, NC, which listed him as the white son of Diza Williams and “unknown.” I couldn’t seem to find him in the federal manuscript census before he was married, but I did find a black family that had similar names as his and his mother’s. So I questioned my grandmother’s only remaining sibling, Aunt Ida, about Sampson’s family. She was evasive, telling me that she couldn’t remember her father having family. Eventually she told me that he had “people” that lived near Worthville, NC. Some locals who remembered Sampson called him “Samps Wilse” for short. Ida told me not to call him Samps Wilse, because that would make him black. This statement seemed strange, but eventually convinced me to look again at the black Williams family. In various censuses, I noticed that the Diza/ Dicey/ Disey, lived with a son named Sampson and was sometimes listed as black, sometimes white, sometimes mulatto. I decided to try to track down descendants of this Williams family.
I learned that Diza Ann was first married to Calvin McQueen, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1854. Both parents were identified as white. Beginning about 1855 and continuing through 1873, Diza gave birth to nine more children, all probably fathered by Wilson Williams (aka Wright), who was identified as her husband in the 1860 census. The children born after Mary Ann were as follows:
1. Daniel, born about 1855. I know very little about him thus far.
2. William M. Williams, a twin to Daniel. He married in Montgomery County and gave his mother’s name as Diza Williams and his father as “unknown.” His death certificate lists his father as Wilson Williams and mother as Eliza Manors. There was a Diza Maners listed in the 1850 census. He and his wife went as white and lived in Vance County, NC in later years.
3. David D. Williams’ death certificate reported his birth date as 5 October 1854. He first married a Montgomery County woman by whom he had children. He and his brother Sampson were known to fight with one another, and were arrested at least once for doing so. David divorced and moved to Robeson County, NC, where he remarried and had other children. By 1900, he and his second family were living in Cumberland County. Wilson was living with them, and was listed as David’s “step-father.” David went as white and remained in that area, which is part of Lumbee Indian territory. Wilson Williams may have had Lumbee connections. Earlier, while living in Montgomery County, Wilson was deeded land together with a Shadrach Williams, who I have not identified. Later, Shadrach was listed in the census as living with a man named Locklear, a common Lumbee surname. It’s possible that Wilson was of Lumbee descent and that he may not have had African ancestry. In the nineteenth century, however, mixed people of Indian or African descent were generally identified by census enumerators as “black” or “mulatto”.
4. Sampson Williams, my great-grandfather, was born in 1859. He went as white, married a white woman, and appeared white for the most part. I have seen a couple of descendants who had a slight amount of color in their complexion, but displayed no other traits indicating African descent. Sampson apparently had little to do with his siblings. He was ill-tempered, often in trouble with the law for fighting, drinking, etc.; he once cut a man, almost killing him. He fled to Florida to hide out for a time, then came home and served some time in jail. I believe he saw a hard life because of his family history. Sampson registered to vote in 1902, giving his ancestor as James Maness. Some of the Manors/Maners/Mainors family became known later as Maness. Sampson Williams died in 1929.
5. Sarah Williams, born about 1861, seems to have disappeared after the 1880 Census, where she was listed as white and boarding with a Freeman family.
6. Margaret Ellen Williams was born 7 August 1866. She never married, but had two children. She stayed for a while with her half-sister, Mary Ann, then moved to the Worthville, NC, area. She went as white, but appeared to have some African ancestry. Her descendants are all white in appearance. She died in 1921.
7. John Williams was born about 1867. I have nothing firm on him, although I am pursuing some leads at this time.
8. Moses Williams was born 22 June 1869, and was listed as mulatto in the 1880 Montgomery County Census. He was married in 1892 in Richmond County, NC, to a black woman. His marriage license identifies his parents as Wilson and Disey Williams. His family later moved to Laurinburg, in Scotland County. He lived as black, though his descendants say he had light skin and green eyes. He died in 1949.
9. Marshall Williams was born in 1873 and remained in Montgomery County. He married a black woman and is buried in a black cemetery. He had one son who never married and died in Maryland. Marshall went as black, but relatives remember that he was very light skinned. His death certificate lists his father as Wilson Williams and his mother as Diza Williams.
A side note, I had my father take a DNA test a few years ago to determine his racial background. I expected it to show either mostly white European heritage with a small amount of African, or mostly white with a small amount of American Indian. I was surprised when the test came back showing mostly white European with a small amount of EAST ASIAN. After further study, I learned that some Indians are descended from Asiatic people who migrated here centuries ago. The granddaughter of Margaret Ellen Williams took the same test, and her results show mostly white European, with a small amount of American Indian.
One interesting occurrence during my research: I have become good friends with Margaret Ellen Williams’s descendants, and once, while we were looking through their family photos, they showed me one person that they could not identify. I immediately knew who it was, and when I turned it over, it had the name Ida Esco Williams written on the back. This was the same Great-Aunt Ida from whom I had tried to gain information about our Williams ancestry!
Posted in Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, tagged calvin mcqueen, diza ann mcqueen, diza ann williams, mary ann mcqueen, one drop rule, wilson williams on December 21, 2010 | 7 Comments »
NOTE FROM MODERATOR: On March 17, 2009, Renegade South published the essay “Race and the ‘One Drop Rule’ in the Post-Reconstruction South,” which presented the story of Mary Ann McQueen of Montgomery County, North Carolina. Recently, that essay elicited a response from Wallace E. “Wally” Jarrell, who is a descendant of Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, and Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams. Wally generously shared his own research on the Williams family with me, and so I have decided to repost the original essay, followed by his expanded history of the family. Here, first, is the original post–now illustrated with photos!– that drew Wally’s attention:
Race and the “One Drop Rule” in the Post-Reconstruction South
by Vikki Bynum
Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!
So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?
Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground.
Despite Davis Knight’s legal victory, custom (and often the law) at times went even further than applying the “one drop rule.” After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of the races was legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), census enumerators in the segregated South of 1900 were instructed to list people’s race as either “black” or “white”; there were to be no “in-between” designations. Some enumerators went even further than that. To reinforce the image of a racially-segregated society, they categorized many formerly white-identified people as “black” simply because they lived in multiracial neighborhoods. Hence, Newt and Serena Knight, and their children who lived (and married) among Rachel and her children, were listed as “black” in the 1900 federal manuscript census.
Similar contradictions of racial identification may be found throughout Southern court records as segregation ordinances were written into law. An example of one absurd, yet utterly serious, effort to determine whether an individual was “white” or “black” (which I pieced together from North Carolina state and federal records) follows:
In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?
It all began before the Civil War, when Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, ended her marriage to Mary Ann’s father, Calvin McQueen. Almost immediately afterward, she married Wilson Williams (aka Wilson Wright). By 1861, when the Civil War began, Diza had given birth to four more children. Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s father, Calvin, enlisted in the Confederate Army in February 1862 and marched off to war. Barely five months later, in July 1862, he was dead from wounds suffered in the battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Calvin had lived and died as a white man.
The same was not true, however, of Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams, who was listed as a “mulatto” by census enumerators. This meant that Mary Ann McQueen grew up in a multiracial household with a stepfather and several siblings all classified as mulattos. By 1884, as segregation expanded and lines of race correspondingly hardened, many folks wondered how this white woman could have mixed-race kinfolk without being mixed herself.
With racially discriminatory laws a fundamental part of segregation, Mary Ann had a lot to lose in civil rights, as well as social standing, if she could not rid herself of the “one drop” taint. Perhaps because she lived in a small community with a long memory, her mother’s sworn statement, which reminded the court that Calvin McQueen and not Wilson Williams was Mary Ann’s biological father, seems to have won Mary Ann her whiteness, at least legally. By 1900, the federal manuscript census for Montgomery County, N.C., listed a Mary McQueen, born 1851, as “white.”
That does not mean however, that Mary Ann’s social status was restored. If this is our Mary Ann, she apparently never married, despite having given birth to a son, also listed as white. Were Mary Ann’s chances at marriage to a white man compromised by her mother’s interracial marriage? In the era of segregation, most certainly they were.
[UPDATE: In fact, as I've learned from Wally, Mary Ann McQueen did marry. She married John Milton Rich, a white man, and she married as a white woman. Below are photos of the couple:]
Today, most scientists agree that there is no genetic basis for the idea of humans as separate “races,” or subspecies. But, as we see in the case of Mary Ann McQueen and the more recent trial of Davis Knight, societal beliefs about race were written into law and political policy, and reflected historical struggles of power over slavery, segregation, and civil rights.
NOTE: The stories of Davis Knight and Mary Ann McQueen are discussed in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.
Posted in Multiracial Families/Communities, tagged granville county nc, harriet e wilson, harriet jacobs, lena horne, mixed race, multiracial, north carolina piedmont, one drop rule, pauli murray, peter curtis, susan williford, Unruly Women, vernon dahmer on May 26, 2010 | 12 Comments »
By Vikki Bynum, Moderator
In recent weeks, The Family Origins of Vernon Dahmer, Civil Rights Activist, by Yvonne Bivins and Wilmer Watts Backstrom, published December 6, 2009 on Renegade South, has received increased attention and interesting comments from readers. I’m pleased that Tiffany Jones even republished it on her blog, Mulatto Diaries.
A few readers of Renegade South posed interesting questions after reading the Dahmer history. “Ms T. A.”, for example, wondered what caused Vernon Dahmer, a man of limited African ancestry, to identify as “black,” and ultimately sacrifice his life working for black civil rights. Also, in regard to racial identification, A.D. Powell (author of Passing for Who You Really Are: Studies in Support of Multiracial Whiteness), drew attention to two instances in which the mixed-race infants of unmarried white women were reportedly given to mulatto families to be raised.
To better understand the ways in which economic class as well as race have historically shaped multiracial communities, I returned to my research files on mixed-race people, and also to a few books on my shelf. In her 1986 history of the Horne family, for example, Gail Lumet Buckley illuminated the “old black bourgeoisie” from which her mother, Lena Horne, descended. That elite group, writes Buckley, was comprised of “three segments of black society in existence before the Civil War: free northern blacks, free southern blacks, and ‘favored’ slaves.” (The Hornes: An American Family, p. 4)*
Of course, most mixed-race people were not part of this black bourgeoisie. Two classic autobiographies proved especially helpful in understanding less elite families : Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861), and Pauli Murray’s Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (1956, 1978). Both the authors were defined legally as “black” despite having greater degrees of European than African ancestry. White appearance notwithstanding, Harriet was born and raised a slave. Pauli, born after slavery was abolished, was the great-granddaughter of an enslaved woman who was impregnated by the sons of her master. On Pauli’s great-grandfather’s side, she was descended from a northern interracial marriage between a white woman and a mixed race man.
Both Harriet and Pauli had advantages denied to most people defined as black by white society. Harriet’s father was not only mixed-race, but a skilled carpenter; her grandmother on her mother’s side was the daughter of a white planter who managed through her connections to white society to gain her freedom (but not her children’s).
Pauli’s southern ancestors were likewise slaves. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s sisters, however, were removed from their mother’s slave cabin by Mary Ruffin Smith, the sister of their wealthy white fathers, and raised in the “Big House.” Although Mary never publicly admitted that the four sisters were the daughters of her brothers (and therefore her nieces), she could not bring herself to treat them as chattel slaves.
My point in discussing Harriet Jacobs and Pauli Murray is not to retell their fascinating life stories, but to explore how white connections might mitigate the disadvantages of race, particularly among light-skinned people of African ancestry. Despite their white ancestry and advantageous connections, Harriet and Pauli, like Vernon Dahmer, identified first and foremost with their African American kinfolk. And why wouldn’t they? Despite light skin and interracial connections, Harriet was nonetheless a slave; Pauli was subjected to segregation. And, of course, both women witnessed abuse and discrimination against people of African ancestry all their lives. It was the cultural rather than biological experience of race that shaped their consciousness.
The lives of mixed-race children who had no favored place or acknowledged kinship with wealthy or influential whites were, of course, much different. Here, my research into North Carolina court records is most revealing. Not only were most mixed-race slaves raised in the quarters rather than in the Big House, but records indicate that being the mixed-race offspring of a single white woman or a free black woman often brought unwelcome attention from the courts, as such children were born free in a slaveholding society.
In chapter four of my book, Unruly Women (1992), “Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch,” pp. 88-110, I covered in some detail the multiracial communities of Orange and Granville Counties in North Carolina. Susan Williford of Granville County provided a particularly vivid example of the ways in which southern lawmakers punished poor white women for crossing the color line. Although Susan, a white woman, remained in a stable relationship with Peter Curtis, a free man of color, for most of her adult life (the two were forbidden by law to marry), all of their mixed-race children were removed by the courts from their home and apprenticed to white farmers or planters of the community. The children were forced to live and work for these “masters” until they reached adulthood.
Free women of color were likewise forbidden to marry across the color line, or to marry slave men. By law, any child born to a free woman was also free, regardless of the woman’s race or the father’s status. Therefore, if free women of color bore children to either white or enslaved men, those children were also subject to being apprenticed by the courts to white families.
In North Carolina, the pre-Civil War system of apprenticeship thus supplemented slavery in controlling the mobility and labor of free people of mixed ancestry. It also served to create the fiction of a society divided between “white” and “black” people, when in fact many free “blacks” (and a good many slaves) had more European and Indian than African ancestry.
Reviewing historical records and autobiographies makes it clear that economic class and gender, as well as heritage and physical appearance, played an integral part in shaping one’s racial identity. This was true in the North as well as the South, where even among Northern abolitionists racial discrimination was commonly practiced. For example, after escaping to the North, Harriet Jacobs wrote that she “found the same cruel manifestations of that cruel prejudice which so discourages the feelings and represses the energies of the colored people,” as in the South (p. 176).
Harriet E. Wilson’s 1859 autobiographical novel, Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, highlighted the racial hypocrisy of white northerners who viewed slavery as only a southern problem. This Harriet, who was the abandoned mixed-race daughter of a poor white woman of New England, expressed contempt for white abolitionists “who didn’t want slaves at the South,” but also did not want people of color in their homes: “Faugh!” she wrote, “to lodge one; to eat with one; to admit one through the front door; to sit next to one–awful!” (129)
A final word about “passing”. This term might best be eliminated from our vocabulary, as it legitimizes the basis for the “one drop rule” of race. To “pass” implies that even though people might look at you and believe that you are “white,” you are nonetheless “black”–and should identify yourself as such–if you have an African ancestor lurking in your past. The assumption is not only that race is an objective biological category of distinction, but furthermore that African “blood” somehow overwhelms all other “blood” in determining who a person really is. The late Mae Street Kidd, a former “black” representive from Kentucky, exposed the absurdity of the one drop rule and the concept of “passing” when she said, “I’ve been passing for black all my life because I’m almost 90 percent white. . . . It’s so very obvious that I’m so much whiter than I am black that I have to pretend to be black.” (Wade Hall, Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd (1997), p. 177)
The Dahmer family history certainly raises provocative questions and provides tantalizing insights into mixed-race or multiracial communities. For those interested in exploring the topic further, I recommend visiting Mixed Race Studies and Study of Racialism, both great bibliographic resources for both online and printed sources.
And here’s a hopeful sign, brought to my attention by A.D. Powell, that we are moving beyond simplistic and dualistic notions of race:
Emerging Paradigms in Critical Mixed Race Studies,” the first annual Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference, will be held at DePaul University in Chicago on November 5-6, 2010.
Posted in Multiracial Families/Communities, The Free State of Jones, tagged free state of jones, george ann knight, guerrillas, john howard knight, jones county MS, joseph newton knight, knight company, newt knight, rebecca jenkins on April 23, 2010 | 10 Comments »
by Vikki Bynum
Steve Tatum recently sent me the above photograph in which he identified the bearded old man as his ancestor, Joseph Newton “Newt” Knight of Tennessee. This Newt Knight, readers may remember from my earlier post, married Rebecca Jenkins, a Native American woman, and never lived in Mississippi, He had no apparent connection to Newt Knight of Mississippi, leader of the “Knight Company,” the notorious Civil War guerrilla band that fought against the Confederacy in the infamous Free State of Jones.
The problem is that the old man in this photo has also been identified as Mississippi’s Newt Knight! I first encountered a poorly-produced photocopy of this photograph around 1992 while searching through folders contained in the genealogy files of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. I chose not to use the picture in my book, The Free State of Jones, because its quality was so poor and because there was no donor listed from whom to seek permission.
I next saw the photograph in The State of Jones (Doubleday 2009), where authors John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins identified its subjects as Mississippi’s Newt Knight and John Howard Knight, son of former slave George Ann Knight and, allegedly, Newt Knight. I should add that while several Knight researchers agree that this is a picture of Mississippi’s Newt Knight, there is disagreement over the identity of the boy standing behind the old man. Yvonne Bivins believes that John Howard Knight, born in 1875, would have been much older than the boy pictured here at the time the photo was taken. More likely, she believes, that boy is a grandson of Newt Knight.
But now we have an unrelated branch of Knights claiming that this is in fact their ancestor. How did this happen? Could it be that the photo was reproduced on the internet, and then discovered by a member of the Joseph Newton Knight family who understandably assumed it was their Newt Knight, standing with one of his Native American descendants? I honestly don’t know. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, historians are often at the mercy of their donors when it comes to identifying subjects of photographs.
Steve Tatum notes that the Tennessee Newt Knight strongly resembles the old man in the picture, and so he does. But so also does the Mississippi Newt Knight, whose photo is below that of Joseph Newton Knight, bear a strong a resemblance to the same man. I wonder if any readers have an original copy of the photo of the older Newt Knight with the young boy standing behind him, or additional photos of the boy that might in turn verify whether he was a member of either the Tennessee or Mississippi Knight family.
In any case, this is yet another lesson of the difficulty of identifying photo subjects, particularly with the ease of exchange and reproduction made possible by the Internet.
Note From Vikki Bynum, Renegade South Moderator: After discovering the blog Mixed Race Studies, I asked its moderator, Steven F. Riley, to submit a guest post telling Renegade South readers more about it. His post follows:
Mixed Race Studies (http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/) is a non-commercial website that provides a gateway to contemporary interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, history, law, etc.) English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism.
The goals of the site are to:
* Provide visitors with links to books, articles, dissertations, multimedia and any other resources to enabled them to further their (and my) knowledge on the topic.
* Remind visitors that so-called “racial mixing” has been occurring in the Americas for over five centuries and in fact, all of the founding nations of the Americans were mixed-race societies at their inception.
* Ultimately support a vision of the irrelevance of race.
I created the site in April 2009 in recognition of our family members and friends who are ‘mixed-race’ and/or raising ‘mixed-race’ children, in response the growing number self-identifying ‘mixed-race’ living here in the Washington, DC area, and finally in celebration of my interracial marriage to my loving wife of 15 years.
In supporting the vision of the irrelevance of race, I’ve been forced to ask myself the following questions.
* Is the ideal of no racial distinction a possibility?
* Does mixed race identity continue the racial hierarchy/paradigm or does it change it?
* Will the acknowledgement and study of multiraciality help or hinder a goal of a post-racial future?
* Will the sheer volume of mixed race people provoke change?
* …But if everybody has been mixed already and our racial paradigm hasn’t changed in the last 400 years, what do we make of the changes in these last 40 years?
* And what changes can we expect in the next 40?
If you are interested in discovering more, please visit http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/ .
Steven F. Riley
Posted in Mississippi, Multiracial Families/Communities, North Carolina, Texas, The Free State of Jones, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, tagged american civil war, Big Thicket of East Texas, civil war dissent, free state of jones, jasper collins, jones county MS, long shadow of the civil war, mississippi unionists, mixed race, newt knight, north carolina piedmont, north carolina quaker belt, one drop rule, rachel knight, serena knight, state of jones, victoria bynum, Warren Jacob Collins, wesleyan methodists, yvonne bivins on February 22, 2010 | 4 Comments »
A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum
Author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies
Published April 15, 2010
$35.00 hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0
Q. There seems no end to books about the American Civil War. What does The Long Shadow of the Civil War offer that is new?
A. Although Civil War books about the home front are not new, this is a new sort of home front study that focuses on three communities from three different states. Rather than close with the war and Reconstruction, The Long Shadow of the Civil War follows individual Unionists and multiracial families into the New South era and, in some cases, into the twentieth century. This historical sweep allows the reader to understand the ongoing effects of the war at its most personal levels.
Q. What led you to combine three Civil War home fronts, all noted as areas of violent disorder, in one study? Why these three?
A. Most basically, I combined them in order to provide in-depth comparisons of the communities within the same volume. But there’s more to it than that; the communities have important links to one another. The North Carolina Piedmont was the ancestral seedbed of migration into what became Jones County, Mississippi. Later, East Texas attracted many non-slaveholding Mississippi families seeking a less-developed piney woods region.
All three regions exhibited fierce Unionist activity during the Civil War, with brothers fighting in separate deserter bands across state lines in two of the communities. So, combining them in one study provided a wonderful opportunity to identify common characteristics of Southern Unionism, while also showing how different geographic settings influenced the nature of the inner civil wars.
Q. What were the most important similarities among the three communities of dissent? The most important differences?
A. All three communities were located outside the South’s plantation belt and all had large non-slaveholding majorities. Important differences were religious practices and length of settlement. The North Carolina Quaker Belt had a history of religious dissent that included Moravian, Mennonite and Dunker sects as well as Quakers.
By contrast, neither Jones County, Mississippi, nor Hardin County, Texas, exhibited significant or organized religious dissent against slavery. As in North Carolina, family networks were important to anti-Confederate activity; however, in East Texas, more recent migration from states like Mississippi meant that family networks were less extensive there. Less cohesive and deeply rooted communities, coupled with politicians’ successful linking of Texas’s 1836 revolution to the Southern cause of secession, undermined organized anti-Confederate activity among non-slaveholders in East Texas.
Q. Why did you return to the Free State of Jones County, Mississippi, and to the North Carolina Quaker Belt, two regions that you wrote about in previous books, for this study?
A. Ever since I discovered that a splinter band of Unionist deserters, led by several brothers of members of the Jones County band, kept Confederate forces at bay in the Texas Big Thicket, and after discovering ancestral links between the North Carolina Piedmont and Jones County, Mississippi, I have wanted to combine the inner civil wars of these three regions in the same volume. Doing so also gave me the opportunity to analyze research materials that were not included in my earlier works: two examples are documents concerning the lives of freedpeople and poor whites in Orange County, North Carolina, and Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 Mississippi claim files.
Q. You cite abolitionism as a motive for anti-Confederate sentiments in only one of your three communities: that of the Randolph County area of the North Carolina Quaker Belt. How and why did religion play such an important role in this region, but not in Jones County, Mississippi, or the Big Thicket of East Texas?
A. The Randolph County area of North Carolina (including Montgomery and Moore Counties) was the “heart” of the state’s Quaker Belt. Quaker opposition to slavery had faded over time because of the state’s changing demographics, but it never entirely disappeared, making this region fertile ground for Wesleyan Methodists who gained a foothold in the 1850s. In Montgomery County, the Rev. Adam Crooks condemned slavery from the pulpit of the Lovejoy Methodist Church. In contrast, Jones County, Mississippi and Hardin County, Texas, were Baptist strongholds during the secession crisis. I have found no evidence that any Baptist church in either county publically opposed slavery or secession; indeed, the Leaf River Baptist Church of Jones County publically supported the Confederacy.
Q. Newt Knight, the controversial “captain” of the Knight Company, is a polarizing figure who even today evokes heated arguments among readers. Why is this so, and how did it affect your historical treatment of him?
A. As long as we continue to debate the causes, meanings, and effects of the Civil War, Newt Knight’s motives and character will also be debated. We know that he defied Confederate authority during the war, supported Republican Reconstruction afterward, and openly crossed the color line to found a mixed-race community. To neo-Confederates, such facts make Newt a scoundrel and a traitor to his country and his race. To neo-abolitionists, he is a backwoods Mississippi hero who defended his nation and struggled to uplift the black race. My response to such powerful and emotional narratives is to examine critically not only the documentary evidence, but also the mountain of published opinions about Newt Knight that have too often functioned as “evidence” for both sides of the debate.
Q. Newt Knight, his white wife Serena, and former family slave, Rachel, were the founding parents of a multiracial community. What sort of a community was it in terms of racial identity? How did members of the community identify themselves racially, as opposed to how the larger white society defined them?
A. As segregation took hold in New South Mississippi (1880-1900), the descendants of Newt, Serena, and Rachel were increasingly defined by white society as black, i.e. as “Negroes,” despite being of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, however, few of these descendants identified themselves as “black.” Depending on their physical appearance, including skin shade and hair texture, descendants of Newt and Rachel variously defined themselves as white, Indian, or colored. Whereas white society applied a “one drop rule” that grouped together all people of African ancestry, these descendants self-identified in ways that reflected their multiracial heritage.
There is no direct evidence of how Newt, Serena, or Rachel racially identified their multiracial descendants. Descendant Yvonne Bivins, the most thorough Knight researcher, was told by her elders that Newt Knight actively encouraged his descendants to identify as white. All that is certain—but nonetheless remarkable—is that they economically supported, nurtured, and lived openly among both white and multiracial kinfolk all their lives.
Q. By crossing the color line, Newt Knight deviated from the norm by acknowledging and supporting his multiracial descendants. What may we deduce from those facts about his political views on race relations in the era of segregation?
A. Since we don’t know that Newt Knight identified his multiracial descendants as “black,” we can’t deduce from his intimate relationships with them, or by his efforts to enroll them in a local school (one that he helped create) alongside his white descendants, that he supported equality for all people of African ancestry—that is, for people classed as “Negroes.” Only if we adhere to the “one drop rule”—and assume that Newt Knight did, too—can we conclude that Newt’s protection of his own kinfolk extended to all Americans of African ancestry.
Newt’s efforts on behalf of freedpeople as a Republican appointee during Reconstruction do not necessarily make him an advocate of black equality, as some historians have argued. There were many Reconstruction Republicans who supported the same basic rights of marriage and military service that Newt upheld for freedpeople, while supporting segregation and opposing black voting rights. We simply don’t know Newt’s political position on these issues.
Q. For thirty years, Newt Knight petitioned the federal government to compensate his ad hoc military band, the Knight Company, for its support of the Union during the Civil War. What do those petitions reveal about the claims process itself, as well as the Knight Band?
A. The transcripts from Newt Knight’s extensive claims files suggest the federal government’s hostility toward claims of Southern Unionism, especially after 1887, as the nation sank into a deep economic depression. That year, Newt renewed efforts begun in 1870 to win compensation.
Several depositions of Jones County men made a strong case for Unionism among the Knight Company. The passage of time, however, doomed Newt’s claim to failure. His Washington, DC lawyers were unfamiliar with the Jones County uprising, while witnesses’ memories of the war faded over time. Most damaging, crucial evidence presented in Knight’s 1870 petition was misplaced by the government and never presented after 1887. At the same time, an expanding literature that portrayed the white South as having been unified around secession made Northerners all the more suspicious of Southern claims of Unionism.
Q. The Long Shadow of the Civil War is as much about the legacies of Civil War dissent as about the war itself. Why did you include both topics in a single volume?
A. To truly understand the Civil War, we need to understand its long-term impact on the lives of those who endured it. Southerners who took a Unionist stance lived with that decision all their lives, as did their children and grandchildren. Some struggled to put the war behind them and never spoke of it again; others, like Newt Knight and Warren Collins, defended their actions all their lives, and went on to fight new political battles.
Multiracial communities that grew out of war and emancipation grew larger and more complex in the late nineteenth century. Faced with racial violence and segregation, many of their members exited the South during these years. But among those who remained, we witness the birth of a multiracial Southern middle class.
Q. You locate a long tradition of political dissent among certain Jones County families that found expression in third party political movements after the Civil War. How does this New South agrarian radicalism shed light on Civil War Unionism and vice versa?
A. In all three regions, I found examples of emerging class consciousness among non-slaveholding farmers as a result of the Civil War. Late in life, Newt Knight, for example, offered a class-based critique of Southern society. Two prominent Unionist brothers, Jasper J. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi, and Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, went even further, carving out political careers as populists and socialists in two separate states.
A close study of individual lives reveals how the Civil War reshaped their perspectives. Of course, the majority of Southern Unionists did not join third-party political movements in the aftermath of war. It appears, however, that some ideologically committed Unionists, such as the Collinses of Mississippi and Texas, grew ever more militant in their political views as the years passed.
Q. Your epilogue, “Fathers and Sons,” compares and contrasts three twentieth-century histories of individual guerrilla leaders written by their sons. What do these biographical sketches reveal about the impact of kinship and politics on the Civil War memories of Southern Unionist families?
A. All three biographies were written after the deaths of their subjects, and reflect the need for sons to defend notorious fathers against charges of treason, lawlessness, or ignorance—especially in the wake of New South glorification of the Confederate cause. Further complicating Tom Knight’s biography of Newt Knight was his effort to present his father as a hero to the segregated, virulently white supremacist society of the 1930s. At the time of Newt’s death, Tom was estranged from him and the family’s interracial community. He knew little about his father’s early years (his narrative is studded with factual errors) and his “memories” of Newt Knight during the Civil War and Reconstruction were profoundly influenced by his need to valorize Newt and thereby restore respect for his family. Though very different in tone and accuracy, Vinson A. Collins’s and Loren Collins’s biographies of their fathers, Warren J. Collins of Texas and Jasper J. Collins of Mississippi, are presented not only with a sense of each son’s relationship with his father, but also in the context of the nation’s politicized memories of the Civil War.
This interview may be reprinted in its entirety with the following credit: A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (University of North Carolina Press, Spring 2010). The text of this interview is available at http://www.ibiblio.org/uncp/media/bynum/.
ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0, $35.00 hardcover
Publication date: April 15, 2010
240 pp., 9 illus., 1 map, bibl., notes, bibl., index
For more information: http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-7790.html
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