The article below, written by Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins, was originally published by Renegade South on December 6, 2009. I am re-posting it because of recent media attention given to Newt Knight as a result of the Senate candidacy of Chris McDaniel, a member of the Mississippi Tea Party.
Chris McDaniel lives in Ellisville, Jones County, Mississippi, a fact that probably made inevitable an invoking of the spirit of the Free State of Jones, and, specifically, the ghost of Newt Knight. Just this morning, a Politico article made the comparison, noting that
Here in the Mississippi Pine Belt, Jones County has been known as “The Free State of Jones” since the Civil War, when a hardheaded fellow named Newton Knight led a movement to oppose the Confederacy. His beef would resonate with tea partiers of today; Knight and his comrades felt they shouldn’t be conscripted as Rebel soldiers when plantations with more than 20 slaves could exempt one white male. They believed dirt farmers shouldn’t fight a rich man’s war.
Fair enough. But does this description of Newt Knight truly “resonate” with what Chris McDaniel represents? Author Bill Nichols apparently thinks so: “Jones Countians loathe the Washington establishment,” he tells us, before wrapping up his article by linking McDaniel and Newt Knight as self-appointed “patriots” seeking to save the Republic.
But wait a minute. This analogy is absurd—patently absurd. During the Civil War, Newt Knight led a band of men who fought FOR the federal government, and AGAINST the Confederacy. During the war, Newt crossed the color line and, for the rest of his life—in Jim Crow Mississippi—lived openly among his mixed-race descendants. In contrast, Chris McDaniel proudly stands before the Confederate flag and regularly denounces the federal government. And he certainly isn’t courting the vote of black Mississippians.
But there’s more. Just today, we were treated to news stories about one of Chris McDaniel’s donors, lawyer Carl Ford. Ford, we learn, defended KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers for the murder of Civil Rights activist, Vernon Dahmer of Hattiesburg. He is also a member of the League of the South, a Neo-Confederate organization that was associated with the Ku Klux Klan in Laurel, Mississippi, during the 1960s.
Ah, the plot thickens! Chris McDaniel’s association with Carl Ford makes efforts to buddy him up with Newt Knight all the more absurd. Especially since the revered Civil Rights activist murdered by Klan leader Sam Bowers came from a family that had intermarried extensively with the mixed-race descendants of Newt Knight himself!
And, so, for those interested in the true associations of Newt Knight, I am republishing the essay on Vernon Dahmer, written several years ago Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins.
Note from Renegade South: Vernon F. Dahmer, a well known Mississippi civil rights worker, was murdered in 1966 by white supremacists connected to the Ku Klux Klan. Before the night of January 10, 1966, when the Dahmer grocery store and home were firebombed, Vernon had been leading voter registration drives in his community. To facilitate that effort, he had recently placed a voter registration book in the grocery store he owned.
Vikki Bynum, Moderator
It took many years and five court trials to convict KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in 1998 of having ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Today, Dahmer is revered for his courageous work on behalf of black civil rights. In honor of his memory, both a street and memorial park in Hattiesburg bear his name.
In the essay that follows, Dahmer’s grandniece, Wilmer Watts Backstrom, and Yvonne Bivins, a member of his extended family of Smiths, Ainsworths, and…
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