The Free State of Jones

Gugu Mbatha-Raw to play Rachel Knight in Free State of Jones Movie

By Vikki Bynum

Rachel and Newt, cover of Free State of Jones

Rachel and Newt, cover of Free State of Jones

The movie “Free State of Jones” is heading toward production! Two exciting announcements appeared this past week. The first is a casting call for background actors that will take place in New Orleans, where filming is set to begin in late February. The second is that British actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw will play slave Rachel Knight opposite Matt McConaughey, who has been cast as guerrilla band leader Newt Knight. (for more on the casting of McConaughey, click here.)

gugu mbatha raw3

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from movie “Belle”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Gugu Mbatha-Raw from movie “Belle”, in which she played the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a British admiral

NOTE: Want to know more about the history of Rachel Knight from an author who grew up listening to stories about her, and then researched and wrote up her findings? Just click here to read Yvonne Bivins’s three-part history of Rachel Knight.

For a look at the long-standing debate over the two photos purported to be of Rachel Knight, see here and here.

16 replies »

  1. Vikki, do you know where and when they will start filming in the S. Louisiana area? I saw where Lafayette and New Orleans will be the focal point. Also, do you envision any filming in Jones County around Ellisville/Sandhill area? Thanks. Andrea

    • Hello Andrea,

      Filming is set to begin in the New Orleans/Lafayette area on Feb. 23 and extend to late May. I’m not certain they will film in Mississippi, although I hope they do, and the IMDb site says they plan to film in Jones County.


      Update, January 13, 2015: I have recently learned that no parts of the movie will be filmed in Mississippi.

      • That’s very disappointing. My daughter Alexiandria Ellis-Labidia has applied for an extra role. She recently moved to TX from Jones County, MS. My ancestor(&hers) is James Morgan & Mary Mason Knight-Valentine. Mary was Albert knight’s daughter. Mary is my granny (Veddie/Veda Valentine-Knight)Knight’s mother. We have another connection. Veddie Valentine married Davis (Squire) Knight. Talk about confusing. My granny talked to my mom in detail about her dad & Newt. Granny passed away when I was 12. We lived were within 3 miles of her home. My family still owns part of the original land tract.

        My husbands family is from LA & they moved to MS when he was around 6. His eldest Sister married a descendant of Newt Knight & Serena. I spoke in depth with his mother several occasions before she passed away. She spoke to very few outside of her family about Newt & family. Because of my family connection she would talk to me. She told me her brother has a good picture of Newt in his house, but he is reculsive. I’m not sure if he has passed or not. I’m very interested in talking with you about family history. I’m on FB as Kimberly Pilgrim-Ellis. Also my grandfather Roney was the eldest grandson of my granny Knight and he is still living.

      • Vikki, I hope to make it to Jasper County my next trip from Mobile to Ellisville. Is there difficulty getting in to the Knight Cemetery to see Newt Knight’s grave site? Several years back, Some say that it was remote, difficult to navigate to it and the residents might not want you in that area. What do you know about this? Andrea

      • Hi Andrea,

        The Newt Knight cemetery is private. One can only visit it with permission and assistance from the family members who maintain it. If you have connections to Knight kinfolk in the area, I suggest that you ask them about the possibility.


      • Vikki, I hope somewhere along the way in filming, there might be a meet and greet for the residents. That would be special.Sure hope so.

  2. Vikki, are you related to us Knights? I’m from Rachel and Newton, Louise, daughter of Anna I believe. My grandmother was instrumental in the writing of your book I thnk, not sure. My grandmothers name is Jewel Dimple Crosby, daughter of Louise. Her and Dale McKnight worked together on research some years back.


    • Hi Jevonne,

      Welcome to Renegade South. I am not related to the Knights; I am a historian who came upon the story of the Free State of Jones many years ago while studying the Civil War in college. I was particularly intrigued because my father came from Jones County and, in 1992, I decided to research the topic and write a book about what I felt was an important uprising of farmers in Jones County.

      In preparation for writing the book, I interviewed many descendants of Newt Knight and Rachel Knight, but, unfortunately, I never met your grandmother, Jewel Dimple Crosby. Sounds like she would have been wonderful to interview!


      • I have decided if your family has lived in jones county for at least 3 generations–we are connected in some way! I used to tell my daughter that she would have to marry someone from 2states away, that any closer and we might be distantly related. She took my advice but she ran with that idea…she fell in love with a Canadian. I joked with her ‘mom didn’t mean out of the country’. They were married/Honeymooned in Hawaii Dec 15, 2014!!

      • Cool, nevertheless super excited about the movie. If your dad is from area I’m pretty sure we’re related somehow. Lol

      • Jevonne, that might very well be true! I’m glad that you all are enjoying the buildup to the movie; I am, too.


  3. I’m the son of Anna Knight Cook, and it’s so funny how after all my life sharing my grandfather (Heyward Knight) stories, that u guys are bringing it to life, I’m so excited and wish ur staff with excellence to make this movie so real where my kids now can see on screen the stories I have told them, May God bless you and can’t wait to see the movie.
    Robert Cook

  4. I was surprised to learn that one of the Knight descendants is buried at Palestine Church located where Bush Dairy Road dead ends into Audubon Drive near Highway 15 North of Laurel. I can see the cemetery from my house on the corner of Old Bay Springs Rd and Bush Dairy Road where I lived for many years and still own. Haven’t figured out exactly how she was connected to the Knights. Will have to re-read Part 3 of Yvonne Bivins History of Rachel Knight/Renegade South.

    • Faye, are you referring to the Palestine Prmitive Baptist Church of Laurel? I know that Serena Knight, the widow of Newt Knight, is buried there.

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