The Free State of Jones

The Life and Death of Davis Knight after State vs. Knight (1948)

By Victoria Bynum

The Ellisville Courthouse, Ellisville, Mississippi, where Davis Knight was tried and found guilty of miscegenation.

The Ellisville Courthouse, Ellisville, Mississippi, where Davis Knight was tried and found guilty of miscegenation. Photo by Victoria Bynum.

Davis Knight, the great-grandson of the infamous “Free State of Jones” guerrilla, Newt Knight, became the centerpiece of his own drama some 25 years after the death of his notorious ancestor. Although Davis was descended from Newt and his wife, Serena, both of whom were white, he was also the great-grandson of Rachel Knight, a former slave of Newt’s grandfather. And although Davis was white in appearance, because of his descent from Rachel, he was defined as black by his white neighbors. Some of those neighbors did not take kindly to Davis Knight’s marriage in 1946 to Junie Lee Spradley, a local white woman. In 1948, Davis ended up in court, accused of having married across the color line (a crime in several states until 1967). Despite a vigorous defense by Attorney Quitman Ross, a jury pronounced Davis guilty. Convicted of miscegenation, the Ellisville Court sentenced him to five years in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison.

Attorney Ross immediately appealed the decision on grounds the court had failed to prove that Davis had 1/8th or more African ancestry, and won his case. The Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and remanded Davis’s case for retrial—a retrial that never took place.

In legal terms, the High Court ruled in this important case that the “one drop rule” did not determine one’s racial identity, regardless of social custom. Davis Knight thus escaped going to prison and, for the rest of his life, lived as a white man.

It turned out, however, that the rest of Davis’s life would be quite short, as was the marriage that he suffered to defend in court. Some years ago, researcher Ken Welch of Soso, Mississippi, provided me copies of Davis’s divorce and death records. They show that in 1954, five years after his Supreme Court victory, Davis sued Junie Lee for divorce on grounds she had abandoned their home in 1951. The couple had no children, and Davis claimed that Junie Lee had given birth to another man’s child during their separation. The marriage was officially dissolved on July 20, 1954.

Soon after, Davis moved to Channelview, Texas (near Houston), where in 1959 he would lose his life in a fishing accident. Before that tragic day, Davis married for a second time, to Evelyn (Evie) Wilburn, and worked as a painter’s helper for Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. When I interviewed Ethel Knight (author of Echo of the Black Horn) in 1992, she told me that Davis had abandoned Junie Lee for a rich, white, older woman who lived in Texas. If Davis’s divorce testimony is to be believed, however, it was Junie Lee who left him. And while his new wife, Evie, was fourteen years older than him, and white, I have found no evidence that she was rich. Evie had been twice divorced, and had two sons, Joel G. Hill, age 31, and James W. McDonald, 24, who were closer in age than she to her new husband.

On the morning that Davis Knight died, he embarked on a fishing trip at the Sheldon Reservoir with his stepson, Joel. According to Joel, he first waded and floated out to a small island where the two men intended to fish. Davis followed, carrying his fishing rod and wearing a life preserver. As he entered into deeper water, the preserver slipped upward and he was momentarily submerged, causing him to panic and thrash about. Several fisherman came to his aid, but by then Davis had been under the water for 3 to 5 minutes and could not be revived. An autopsy ruled his death an accidental drowning.

Davis’s Texas death certificate described him as a 34-year-old white man. Although the Mississippi Supreme Court had granted him the same status, the “one drop rule” of race meant that most people who knew his roots would never accept him as white. So, like many kinfolk before him, Davis escaped the dangers and degradation of being labeled a “black” man by leaving the state. For him, that escape proved all too brief.

For a historical overview of the “one drop rule” that includes a discussion of the Davis Knight trial, see my post, “Racial Identity and the Law,” here on Renegade South.

Note: For a full history of Davis Knight’s miscegenation trial, see Victoria Bynum, “‘White Negroes’ in Segregated Mississippi: Miscegenation, Racial Identity, and the Law,” The Journal of Southern History (Vol. LXIV, No. 2, May 1998), subsequently republished in Victoria Bynum, The Free State of Jones (2001; second edition, 2016).

74 replies »

    • Jon,
      I appreciate, as ever, your taking time to comment. It was a hard story to write, and I think that’s why I did not do so sooner. One expects a different ending to such an important ordeal, but life and death take their own paths.

    • This story is facinating, Im sure it was a task gathering information, making a story within a story,yet staying true chronically and factually.
      Blacks have been through alot in this country and to know that there was a man willing to fight tooth and nail to uphold the constitution of the united states.

      • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Ruben. The case of Davis Knight is particularly instructive for what it reveals about the shifting and fabricated nature of racial identity in the United States. It’s also worth remembering that Davis Knight did not sue for his right to marry across the color line. He sued as a white man, who his lawyer argued therefore had every right to marry a white woman. Davis himself was not a black civil rights activist, but his case inadvertently raised questions about the entire notion of “race,” which is really a human invention, as well as how we define “racial identity.”


  1. Mrs. Bynum,

    My name is W. J. Knight, I am interested in finding out more about Newton Knight. If it isn’t a problem could you please contact me through my email? Newton Knight was my great great uncle. His brother Albert (born 1833) was my great great grandfather. One of my patrol men is Newton Knight’s great great grandson. We are interested in locations that they might have some importance. Thanks ahead of time.

      • I am trying to find out about Clinton Knight 8/26/1899-11/10/1961 wife Gladys Sullivan- trying to find out more on them, recent DNA has them as distant relatives to myself, Sonja Rogers. Any information from anyone would be well received. My email sonjarog1947@gmail,com

    • Mr. Knight, I read your comments about the log and the cave near Reddoch’s ferry. I have been casually exploring the Leaf by kayak lately and I would love (LOVE) to have more specific detail on the location of these things if you can provide it. That part of the river is super shallow, so “just north of the ferry” could mean hours of paddling and looking if I can’t get some specifics 🙂

    • Hi WJ Knight!!
      I hope you get this or Ms.Vikki get this to you. I am a of Albert Knight Jr. also. He is my great-great-great-grandfather I would love to share any info I or my side of the family has. My grandfather Roney, still remembers his granny Knight talking about all the ‘newt’ band of men, her father was James Morgan Valentine. If your interested please contact me:)

  2. My thanks to Deborah Jiang Stein for taking the time to comment. Be sure and visit the Huffington Post to read her personal and insightful observations about multiracialism.

    I’m certain you’re right, Deborah, that there are many, many more stories like those of the Knight family waiting to be shared.


  3. I just read ” The State of Jones” which covers the Knight Family from early 1800 thru the 1960s. It gives extensive details about the family,, is a real eye opener to a historian such as myself.
    This book was purchased thru for .04 cents, plus shipping of 3.99 an was well worth the costs,, I did not stop reading it daily, until completed, then did a Google for Davis Knight v. State of Mississippi, which gave me this site an many others.
    Doug Traylor educator, historian..

    • Wow, Doug, are we twins?. I followed the same path except I got the audiobook through audible through amazon I have Colemans and Duckworths from Mississippi in my family, so I was tickled all around. I love history and the best history is the history we learn outside the public school system.
      Did you wonder why they did not use the Bonnie Blue flag for the cover of the book?

  4. Thanks for your comments, Doug.

    I agree; Davis Knight’s miscegenation trial and his tragically short life is an important historical event and an interesting story as well.

    If you are referring to Stauffer and Jenkins’s book, State of Jones, I recommend that you also read my three-part review of their book on this site:

    Good luck with your historical career!


  5. Doug, if you found “State of Jones” enjoyable and informative, then you are in for a treat. Read Dr. Bynum’s “The Free State of Jones,” the book from which “State of Jones” mined the majority of its contents. Unfortunately, this later book pales in both authenticity, thoroughness, and entertainment value to Bynum’s opus.

  6. At the risk of passing on gossip, i believe the ex-wife of Davis Knight led an equally tragic post-trial life. If I am not mistaken, a woman by the name of “Ms. Johnson” used to walk through downtown Laurel begging for money. My employer often helped her by paying her utiliities or her grocery tab. When she died, in fact, he paid for her to be buried so that she would not have to be buried in a pauper’s grave. “Ms. Johnson” once mentioned that she tried to marry a man (who looked white) but whom the local officials accused of being black, and the marriage was prevented it until it went “all the way to the Supreme Court” and was allowed. Since the Knight trial was the only miscegenation case to reach Mississippi’s Supreme Court, I have assumed that Ms. Johnson is the former Mrs. Davis Knight. Tom Knight, Newt’s son, might have peddled pencils in the same area downtown, outside the old Kress’s building, if the information I have received is correct.

    And to both Mr. Odell and Dr. Bynum, your submissions kept me reading the Review of Jones County for months. I never submitted a letter to the paper because I felt that Mr. Odell captured my sentiments perfectly. Job well done defending honest and earnest research.

    • Very interesting, Hayley! It certainly sounds as though your “Ms Johnson” was Junie Lee Spradley, the woman whose marriage to Davis Knight led to his miscegenation trial. A little research, or perhaps some knowledgable reader, might confirm whether Junie Lee married someone named Johnson after her divorce from Davis. In any case, a very sad story, indeed.

      Thanks also for letting Jon and me know that you read and enjoyed our contributions to the Jones County Review last fall in regard to the Jenkins/Stauffer book. Jon’s satirical essay that got things going in that newspaper was a masterpiece!


  7. Reblogged this on Renegade South and commented:

    With filming of the Free State of Jones soon to begin, and with the announcement that Louisiana’s oldest courthouse, located in downtown Clinton in Feliciana Parish, will be the film site for the Davis Knight miscegenation trial, I’m reblogging the following essay, originally posted in 2009.

  8. Immediately after Davis was declared “white” by the Mississippi Supreme Court, he was skirted quickly out of Mississippi by his relatives to Erie, PA. There are many Knight Families that immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1940’s after World War II. He became restless with his darker skinned kin and decided to make the move to Texas where several relatives were able to pass for white. Davis was also descended from Lucy Ainsworth Smith, daughter of Sampson Ainsworth and Martha Ann Ainsworth.

  9. “Although Davis was descended from Newt and his wife, Serena, both of whom were white, he was also the great-grandson of Rachel Knight, a former slave of Newt’s grandfather. ”

    Sorry, I don’t understand this. Can you explain? He didn’t have two mothers!

    • It’s not that difficult, and doesn’t require two mothers. Davis Knight was the grandson of Mollie Knight, the daughter of Newt and Serena Knight. That made him their descendant. Mollie knight was married to Jeffrey Knight, who therefore was Davis’s grandfather. Jeffrey Knight’s mother was Rachel Knight; therefore Davis was descended from Rachel as well as from Newt and Serena.

  10. Hello,

    I am playing Davis in The Free State Of Jones film. I am traveling to Ellisville tomorrow to get a feel for the actual locations of events. Would much appreciate any advice/tips on places to see, people to visit, etc. also any spots in town that would be considered a “locals” hang-out.

    Thank you,

    Brian Lee Franklin

  11. I will contact you privately, Brian. Meanwhile, I hope readers from Ellisville will offer their advice!

    Vikki Bynum

  12. I can tell you the location of the gravesites of jasper Collins, Serena knight, and amos mclemore. I know where newt and Serena are buried but the gate is usual locked. I have also been to where sals battery is if interested. Enjoy jones county Brian!

  13. At this point, I don’t believe that I will buy a ticket to see the movie, “The Free State of Jones”, not to say that I won’t change my mind, as that’s my prerogative. Instead of excitement, I feel a sense of dread about the movie. I personally don’t understand why Davis needed to be included in the script, especially after my mother’s generation tried to “live it down”. (Perhaps, Vikki can explain it to me.) And, I do not understand why my generation and the ones following are so ready to acknowledge Newton as their great grandpa, especially since he tried so very hard to erase the black from their grandparents’ blood, so to speak. Most of my Grandmother’s generation really thought that he was a scoundrel and a liar and was not proud of his escapades or their relationship to him. The latter being the reasons most of us do not know our history beyond our grandparents. My mother’s generation worked very hard to overcome the embarrassment and shame of the trial. (I have copies of court documents showing in testimony Fan Knight denying that she was “black”. Fan was Rachel’s daughter by Jesse Davis Knight and Jeffrey Earley’s sister.)

    When I began seriously researching my family history, my mother and aunt were still alive as well as several cousins who were all closely related to Davis Knight. In fact, they were his first cousins. When my relatives were run out of the area called Six Town by local whites, they settled in an area where the majority of the people looked white like them. The reason for their flight was a decision to defend the honor of Davis’ mother, Addie, who was molested by a group of white boys. Addie later married Otho Knight, the son of Jeffrey Early Knight and Martha “Mollie” Knight. I related to the readers of this blog that according to family history, Newton wanted to erase the black blood in his descendants by Rachel and George Ann. These children were not raised in the Black community of Soso, but kept fairly isolated from their black kin. My Aunt Octavia Knight said that she was “almost grown” before she knew that she was considered “Negro” and I have deduced that it was only after she became pregnant by a white boy named Lester Welch and could not marry him.

    My mother, who was Davis’ first cousin, was ashamed of her family who “chose” to join the white race and embarrassed that they “wanted to be white”. She was card-carrying member of the NAACP. Onie Knight, daughter of John Howard Knight, married into the Bourn family; all were active leaders in the NAACP. John Madison “Hinchie” Knight’s granddaughter, Jeannette Musgrove, was married to Dr. Charles Smith; long time President of the local NAACP chapter in Forrest County. The KKK continually harassed our neighborhood with nightly cross burnings, hooded nightriders and threats of lynching. All the while, Davis’ father would not let a black person set foot on his property, openly treating them with distain. Listening to “grown folks talking”, I was aware that they were not happy with Otho’s attitude toward black people, an attitude that he undoubtedly picked up from his father, Jeffrey Early Knight.

    I don’t know how much of our family history was taught to Davis and his sisters, but I am aware that Davis knew that some of his relatives were so called “colored”. As a matter of fact, several of his kin who would not or could not pass as white, carried him to Erie, Pennsylvania immediately after the trial to join other relatives and keep him safe. I wasn’t long before he moved to Channelview, Texas his Uncle Charles Madison Knight was living with his family. It should be noted that the Knights that lived in Erie were mostly descended from Harriet Carter Ward whereas the Knights that moved to Texas were abled to “pass for white”.

    • I was just saying how ironic it is that for years people would never admit being related to Newt Knight. Now folks are coming out of the wood work.
      My mother was born in 1916. She grew up in the Calhoun community. She always said a lot of the info in “Echo of the Black Horn” was not true. She said Ethel wrote the book for the money.
      Just another point of view.

    • Bivsy, I have that same dread feeling. It could stir up bad feelings on both sides. Since my family still lives on a part of the original land grants in Jones County MS of the Knights. I don’t want our community turned upside down again. It will not affect the defendants that no longer live in MS. I’m just sick of everyone in this country looking down on our state. MS has came a long way since this trial and the escapades of Newt Knight.

      • Kim, neither the trial of Davis Knight nor the “escapades” of Newt Knight have contributed to why so many people have, as you say “looked down” on Mississippi. Most people outside the state know little to nothing about either of those stories (although they are about to hear more with the coming of the movie). Frankly, I think the movie might improve Mississippi’s image.


  14. Thanks, Yvonne (“bivsy”), for sharing your family’s feelings about Newt Knight and about the decision of Davis Knight’s branch of the family to identify as white despite having African as well as European ancestry.

    Racial identity is a complicated and conflicted topic, and it clearly won’t be resolved here. Still, I hope that efforts to discuss it from all sides will help us move toward a broader understanding of racism and its many effects on society. I do not “take sides” with the descendants of Newt and Rachel, regardless of whether they identified as black or white. I will say, however, that I do not adhere to the “one drop rule” of race, which dictates that persons with any amount of African ancestry must identify as black or risk being considered a traitor to their race. “Race”, after all, is governed and perpetuated by political and social definitions, and not by scientific reality. I have discussed this at length on other posts, and will not digress here.

    You asked early in your comments if I can explain why the movie, Free State of Jones, will include the miscegenation trial of Davis Knight in its story. I can only speak for own decision to include the trial in my book of the same name. I did so because it is important to the history of race relations in the United States as well as to the history of Newt and Rachel Knight and the Free State of Jones.

    Vikki Bynum

    • Ms. Bynam,
      I only stated that I felt it could stir up ill feeling in the community, a community that has improved over the last hundred years. Simply a concern I have.

      I did not state the movie would make them look down on MS, I just stating a fact about MS in general. It was a statement dealing with all of MS’s past events.
      In my travels I find that outside of MS —there is persons that still believes we don’t have indoor plumbing. Just another fact.

      Echo of the Black Horn I believe is listed as fiction, due to E.Knight having to fill in the gaps between her book/story’s time frame. One of my aunts, (my Pilgrim side) knew her and that’s what she told my aunt. My granny Knight told us many stories about her childhood, when asked about E.Knight’s book she stated ‘it was not all true, it had be embellished to help the book sell”.
      However she didn’t specify which parts, my mother may know more but that’s the extent of my knowledge about her book, other than reading the book:)

      *None of my comments are meant in a negative context.” And ‘escapades’ is one of the terms my granny used when talking about her uncle Newt Knight. I have worked on my family tree since 2001, and I have always acknowledged Newt Knight was a relative on the larger family tree but not my direct line—Albert Knight Jr. (his older brother by 4 years) is my direct Knight line, but I understand more people are willing to talk about their family tree with all the buzz of the upcoming movie. I’ve always said if a resident of Jones county has been here at least three generations back, that they are related to the Knights in some way:) The descendants of John Jackie Knight are all over the U.S. and a few other countries.

      • Hi Kim,

        Thanks for your comment. I regret that I sounded angry in my response to your post. I tend to have a visceral response to any suggestion that perhaps history should be suppressed if it makes people uncomfortable or stirs up ill-feelings. Very little history of any importance would ever be published if we used criteria such as that! But I realize that’s not what you meant to say.

        I agree with you, in fact, that the coming movie will likely generate some feelings of division and even anger among a portion of the population, both in and outside of Jones County. Those feelings are already there, waiting to be stirred. A certain level of disagreement over the movie’s interpretation of the story seems inevitable.

        For these reasons, I truly hope the movie recreates the essence of a community civil war, and doesn’t simply offer a dramatic story told from the perspective of one “heroic” man. As for the Davis Knight trial, it will be wonderful if Brian Lee Franklin exhibits a feel for what Davis Knight may have felt during his moment in history. To his credit, Mr. Franklin appears to be seeking the information he needs to develop his character.

        In any case, it’s fascinating to watch the movie unfold!


  15. Some further thoughts about Newt Knight and Davis Knight: What if we quit thinking of Newt Knight as either a “hero” or a “scoundrel”? What if instead we view him as a complex human being who lived his life as he saw fit, for better or worse for those around him? In my judgment, we will learn far more about the horrors of the Civil War and about the families that joined Newt’s uprising if we view his story within its historical setting, recognizing that Newt made his decisions during times of extraordinary stress.

    And what if we quit viewing race as an either/or, black or white issue, and instead recognize that people often choose to identify themselves in ways that best suit their own needs and abilities? Should we blame those mixed-ancestry Knights who lived in the segregated South—a South, as Yvonne describes, that long tolerated lynchings of people of color who dared assert their rights—for identifying (when they could) as white? Isn’t it more important that we understand the white supremacist power structure that forced people with any degree of African ancestry to either deny that ancestry or live a life of second-class citizenship?

    I would hope that we could recognize that during the Civil War ordinary Southern men struggled as both Confederate and Union soldiers to survive a war not of their making. So did their families on the home front. I would also hope that we could admire the efforts of people, such as Yvonne’s kinfolk, who chose to identify with their black ancestry and work for greater civil rights for all people—but without condemning those who did not, or could not, do so.

    Vikki Bynum

    • Well said Vicky. My grandmother spoke to me about her brother who passed for white, who moved on to live as a white man.This movie will make people think many ways about many people but the biggest picture is how many blacks or living and don’t know their history. How many whites or living and don’t even know their family tree.

  16. Very interesting. My dad’s family is originally from adjoining Wayne County Ms. Mothers family was from Lincoln County Ms. (between Columbia & Brookhaven). Both come from mixed race backgrounds. As children from California in the 1960’s our parents would take us “back home” to visit Mississippi. I remember in those days/ areas seeing other mixed race folks was not that uncommon.

  17. You failed to mention that during the trial many came forward to testify that Rachel was in fact Native American, not of African descent. It is frequently overlooked that Native Americans were also sold into slavery.

    • Thanks for your comment, Aggie. You are correct; several witnesses claimed that Rachel was Native American rather than African American. Those testimonies—as well as the likely Indian, African, and European ancestry of Rachel—are discussed at length in my book The Free State of Jones. Several posts on this blog discuss Indian ancestry as well, but this particular one primarily focuses on the aftermath of the trial and the tragic death of Davis Knight. (My book also addresses the frequent enslavement of Native Americans throughout the years of slavery.)


  18. Junie Lee Spradley is my grandmother (fathers mother). She passed away June 9, 1998 in Laurel,MS. She married after Davis changing her last Name to Loper. She has 3 children: Katie Sue Loper (deceased), Lynn Loper, And Joseph Lee Loper. Katie and Lynn are white and my father Joseph is mixed race (black/white). I don’t know too much about her parents or any of her family as a matter of fact but I believe they disowned her after this ordeal with Davis but I’m really not sure. She was a very sweet lovable woman

    • Thank you for this information on Junie Lee, Khristin. I’ve often wondered what the aftermath of the trial was like for her.


  19. i was born in Soso, my grandfather Eagar Shanks , who for years was the only registered Republican in Smith county Mr Shanks was a presidential Elector for Hoover. i read your book and all the others about Knight and Wild Bill sSullivan. What was Newt life like after the war? I too have found that i am kin somehow , not sure which color and really don!t care. thanks for your time

    • Doug.

      Newt remained politically active for twenty years after the war. White supremacist laws and attitudes seem to have ended his political career, but he remained active until 1900 trying to gain government compensation as Unionists for himself and 54 members of his band. Between 1900-1922, he seems to have lived quietly with in his large mixed-race community of family members.


    • Hi Doug, Your grandfather Edgar Shanks was brother to my great-grandfather James W. Shanks of Sumrall, who married Minnie Elnora Baylis, daughter of Newt Knight’s political nemesis after the war, John Baylis. Vikki mentions a letter in her book that John Baylis wrote the governor of Mississippi complaining about Newton Knight’s activities after the war. It is that marriage that links the Shanks family to the Knights. John Baylis had a sister Elizabeth who married Jesse Davis Knight, who was uncle to Newton Knight. When JD Knight died of illness in 1864 while serving the Confederacy, he left her with ten children including George Baylis “Clean Neck” Knight, who you will find in Vikki’s post here on this site was a close friend of Newt later in life. Best, Jesse Shanks

  20. I am a white man married to a black woman, living in Texas, and am a preacher and pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. My great-great-grandfather from NY rode in the Union cavalry from 1861-1865. The film is very good for showing a different reality than the State Rights’/Southern White Pride/Texas Superiority narrative which holds sway down here, and for showing some of the horrible realities of Reconstruction, which nobody here talks about. It also inspired me to find out that Texas contributed over 2000 men to the Union forces. Surprisingly, it is being shown here (“12 Years a Slave” and “Lincoln” weren’t). Today I preached on Hebrews 13:10-14, “for here we have no lasting city, but are looking for the city that is to come,” using Knight’s words in the film, “this place isn’t our home; it hasn’t been our home for quite a while.” Thank you, all Knight and Jones County family members who have gone before and honored the legacy. God bless and keep you.

    • What a fascinating story, the saga of the Knights. I saw the movie yesterday and enjoyed it. I was a history major in college so I knew a bit about the southern Republicans, Red Strings, and the Union League.

      I saw an interview with two sisters whom are descendants of Newt and Rachael. Their was angst in their voices as they spoke about a lack of unity between they and their “white” relatives.

      • It’s been a long and interesting, but difficult, struggle for many Knight descendants. They’ve seen so much history.


      • We have the same situation in my dad’s family. They do recognize the darker side of the family. My mom’s family has a similar situation. Two of her uncles left North Carolina and moved to Florida, where they lived as white men. It was 20 years ago when one of their granddaughters was about to get married that their descendants found out that they came from a bi-racial background. My mom’s uncles both had red hair and light complexions. I have a feeling it happened more than most people will ever admit.

    • Could not agree more, Reverend Whitcomb. We’ve needed to revisit the era of Reconstruction for over 125 years. Not enough people read real history, so it’s great to see Hollywood take on the Lost Cause myths.

  21. I have just finished watching the movie The Free State of Jones and enjoyed it very much. I thought of Newt Knight as a man who held his land and family above anything and would do anything to right any injustices during war and also right the injustice of racism after it. I am of Scotish, Flemish French English ancestry but identify as New Zealand Maori. I am proud of my European ancestry and the history of each. Big ups to Viki Byum awesome movie.

  22. I watched the movie last night and even though I have a minor in history, this movie exposed me to something I had not heard of before; apprentice of Blacks to former masters. In the movie, when the little boy is taken to be an “apprentice” to his former owner was shocking to me. I had a hard time sleeping after watching the movie as I could not stop thinking about it. I want to know more. I think the subject is a hard one for Americans, as we want to think we hold the values of religion and fairness, but as our history shows, this is a myth.

    • Thank you for your comment, Sandi. I’m glad you watched the movie and reacted as you did to what it portrayed. No, our nation as not held to its “values of religion and fairness” nearly as much as we’d like to believe.

      I was not familiar with the post-Civil War practice of apprenticing freed children to their former masters until I became a historian. While researching my first book, Unruly Women, I discovered that the system has a long history, and originally co-existed in the U.S. South alongside slavery. Poor white, illegitimate, and free children of color were often apprenticed to propertied white people of their county, and made to work for them until they reached legal adulthood. In turn, they were to be housed, fed, and taught trades. Mostly, however, they worked for their contractual masters and mistresses. When the Civil War resulted in the emancipation of slaves, many former slaveholders simply took the old apprenticeship system and expanded it to include the newly-emancipated slave children. The parents of those children had to go to court and fight for custody of their own children. Not until passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution (known as the Reconstruction Amendments), did former slaves have the power to win their custody suits—that is, if they went before a Republican judge who respected the new Constitution.


  23. I just watched a free State of Jones. I find it appalling the cruelty that was administered to the slaves, and friends of slaves. The behavior of the soldiers who raided the houses of people and took their liberty to take what ever that wanted is bordering on criminal insanity, Whats even worse is the courts ruling in the favor of the depraved individuals, It is disturbing the indecency of the cruelty that was practiced. I hope that people consider the cruelty and stop repeating the same behavior.

  24. Newt Knight what a man, what a life what a Leader a really and truly one of America Greatest Man. He was bigger than The infamous State of Mississippi.

  25. Hello and I just finished watching the Free State of Jones movie and I like it a lot because of the historical context of it. My mother who is African American from Siler City, NC and her father (My grandfather) look white and can passed for it. He played semi-pro baseball back in 1920`s. My grandmother was African American. I am Hispanic & African American.

    • Hi Luis, Thanks for your comment! Like our nation, yours is an interesting and ethnically diverse family. (This is why I avoid the term “passing”–ethnically-mixed people come in all shades and cultures.) Glad you enjoyed the movie.


  26. Junie Lee Spradley was my grandmother 😊 She probably knew he was somewhat mixed with black but didn’t care. She loved people no matter the color and she died that way!

  27. Mrs Bynum, My brother (a historian) informed me about Newt Knight and the “Free state of Jones” movie recently. We are from Laurel and as I was googling and reading I was thinking that we were somehow connected to the Knights.

    Speaking to an older family member around the new year just about confirmed my suspicions. My paternal grandmother’s (Lessie Vinzandt Pugh) mother was Estelle Knight.

    Apparently, this older relative (his mother and my father are siblings) has attended many family reunions with the Knights (all fair-skinned, what we call “mixed race”). We identify as African American.

    Have you come across any mention of Estelle knight and her descendants?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.