The Free State of Jones

Discussing the Free State of Jones with Keith Harris, “The Rogue Historian”

An introduction by Keith Harris, moderator of The Rogue Historian, followed by our podcast interview:

Dr. Victoria Bynum

Hi all – this week I am super-stoked to welcome Dr. Victoria Bynum to the show. Dr. Bynum is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Texas State University, San Marcos. A scholar of class, gender, race relations in the Civil War Era South, she is an award-winning author and a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow. Her book, The Free State of Jones (UNC Press, 2001, 2016), inspired the movie, The Free State of Jones (STX Entertainment, 2016). Other publications include Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (UNC Press, 1992) and The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (UNC Press, 2010). She is the creator and administrator of the blog, Renegade South.

Our talk today focused on Jones County, Mississippi during the Civil War and Reconstruction…which you will see is rather more complex than the movie would let on. I mean, I rather enjoyed the film and thought Matthew McConaughey was great. But as is often the case, a film can only do so much in two hours, and they often overlook the vast complexities in the interest of narrative. All good though, read the book and fill in the gaps…and by all means listen to the show!! We discuss:

  • How we can separate history from myth in the case of Jones Co.

  • How the Jones Co. story challenges the conventional Lost Cause narrative

  • The sentiment expressed by Newt Knight and his band as a case study for the non-slaveholding class across the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction (enter big-time complexities)

  • The historical background and tradition of resistance in Jones Co.

  • History and Hollywood…what the movie got right, and what was not quite right (read…overdone).

4 replies »

  1. It’s been sometime since I have given thought to the movie. Like you, I wish the women had been portrayed with a little different tone. I will say that Newton Knight was taking apart, his personality, his life, and put back together. That’s happened time and time again in the history books, and oral history. I am reflecting on how difficult it was living together in Jones Co. Ms. I haven’t ever seen it as a laid back community, probably because living it was more traumatic for my parents, than it is for me to see and understand who they were, and what hell some of them lived through, and denied rights, not just based on color, but gender. Thank you for sharing this video, I couldn’t help but wonder could it all happen again? I sense it just be happening now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to hear from you, Frances. Your correspondence with me during the writing of The Free State of Jones made me understand so well the hell that many common people endured in Jones County, both during and after the war. I agree with your sense that something similar is happening in our nation right now, if what your referring to are the incredible levels of open racism expressed from the President’s office on down, and the alarming degree of open assaults on the rights of women. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes. These are perilous times.



  2. Really enjoyed the podcast, Vikki…I always learn something new when listening to you or reading your books..
    This time I am now thinking about the role of the non-slaveholding class of folks during reconstruction..would like some recommendations of books about this subject..

    Thanks for all your excellent research and dedication to digging for the facts and offering a different view on our Jones County ancestors..I wish I had known my ancestors, but since that is not possible, your body of work and your passion for bringing them to life has made a difference!

    Cindy DeVall


    • Great to hear from you, Cindy; I appreciate your continued support for my work! I think you would enjoy Stephen Cresswell’s works: Rednecks, Redeemers, and Race: Mississippi after Reconstruction, 1877-1917, and Multiparty Politics in Mississippi, 1877-1902. Also Bradley Bond, Political Culture in the Nineteenth Century South: Mississippi, 1830-1890. An early article on the white yeomanry in Alabama echoes much of the Mississippi experience: see Michael W. Fitzgerald, “Radical Republicanism and the White Yeomanry during Alabama Reconstruction, 1865-1868,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Nov., 1988), pp. 565-596.



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