The Free State of Jones

Dorothy Knight Marsh, “From Cotton Fields to Mission Fields: The Story of Anna Knight”

Accomplishing what others could not with so little, this woman of courage and determination, too white to be black and too black to be white, stood up against the moonshiners who threatened her. (Quoted from back side of From Cotton Fields and Mission Fields)

At the young age of sixteen, Anna Knight escaped Jim Crow Mississippi by joining the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Anna, the daughter of former slave George Ann Knight, and reputedly of Civil War guerrilla leader Newt Knight (who was recently portrayed by Matthew McConaughey in the movie, The Free State of Jones) , eventually became part of the legion of educated middle-class women of color who worked tirelessly between 1890 and 1930 to “uplift African Americans by opening the doors to education and health care” (Quoted from Bynum, “Negotiating Boundaries of Race and Gender in Jim Crow Mississippi,” Long Shadow of the Civil War, ch. 6, p. 118).

Yet, Anna Knight had first to “uplift” herself before she could join the ranks of elite African American women. In this newly-released narrative of her life, Anna’s great-niece, Dorothy Knight Marsh, seeks to reveal how this mixed-race child, who grew up amid racial strife and economic hard times in the piney woods of Mississippi, transformed her life into that of a highly-educated Adventist teacher, nurse and missionary who would in turn transform the community in which she was raised.

From Cotton Fields to Mission Fields, by Dorothy Knight Marsh, 2016

From Cotton Fields to Mission Fields, by Dorothy Knight Marsh, 2016

In June, 1988, Dorothy and a cousin retrieved the voluminous collection of papers and documents left by Anna Knight when she died in 1972 at age 98.  In the book’s introduction, Dorothy describes how she waded through the fascinating materials, discovering in the process Anna’s original handwritten version of her 1952 autobiography, Mississippi Girl (now out of print). Very soon, Dorothy explains, she decided to rewrite Mississippi Girl  by paraphrasing Anna’s original autobiography and incorporating new information found in her personal papers. She also added an additional chapter that describes Anna’s final years of life (Marsh, Intro, p. v-vii).

Dorothy Knight Marsh was born in Soso, Mississippi, and was raised and educated outside of Mississippi. After a career as a business woman, she and her husband retired from the active life in Washington, D.C., and returned to her birthplace. She is involved in serving the history of Anna Knight and Knight Family Legacy, speaking at churches, organizations, and universities. Marsh is the mother of three daughters, one surviving daughter, and a grandson.

Dorothy Knight Marsh was born in Soso, Mississippi, and was raised and educated outside of Mississippi. After a career as a business woman, she and her husband retired from the active life in Washington, D.C., and returned to her birthplace. She is involved in serving the history of Anna Knight and Knight Family Legacy, speaking at churches, organizations, and universities. Marsh is the mother of three daughters, one surviving daughter, and a grandson.

I can’t wait to read the entire book, and I encourage you to do so, too! From Cotton Fields to Mission Fields may be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.

3 replies »

  1. Looking forward to reading, and understanding how she managed, given the times, to empower herself as a woman with other women. I’ve seen so many communication gaps, including this 21st century gap, that still hold women back, their feelings, their freedoms. Women have always been dedicated to their own health, and that of their families. I find the hard part is that of acceptance as professionals (mostly men), during the era she grew up. “As the twig is bent so grows the tree”. Motivating higher education and women into professional health careers, with a sensitivity to the needs of women, and this coming from ancestors, her contributions is greatly appreciated.

    I admire the women who have lived through this period, done their research, have spoken their minds, and I think it sometimes requires women to carry a heavy load, because they say what they believe. They paved the way for all us.

  2. I agree, Frances! In many ways, Anna Knight’s story is every bit as remarkable as Newt Knight’s–and her influence and impact on the mixed-race Knight community equally important.

    Vikki

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