“Ever heard of the ‘Free State of Jones?'” my father asked me when I was a boy. “When Mississippi seceded from the Union, Jones County seceded from Mississippi, but Mississippi forced Jones County back into the state, and the Yankees forced Mississippi back into the Union.”
It wasn’t quite so simple as that, but Dad had the basic story right. Now this little-known (but well-known in south Mississippi) and strange piece of Civil War history is on the big screen, in Free State of Jones.
My wife and I saw the film in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is in the county immediately south of Jones. The theater was packed for an afternoon matinee, as people are fascinated by a film about local history. Some people personally knew minor actors in the film. Behind us, someone whispered in a swamp scene, “That must be the Okatoma.”
What they saw was an mostly accurate, violent film about the stubborn, tragic character of Newton Knight, who led a band of escaped slaves and poor white deserters, at times numbering in the hundreds, that literally took control of Jones, Jasper and part of Smith Counties in south Mississippi late in the Civil War, and rebelled against the Confederacy.
(Above: Newt Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, leads his band of rebels.)
Why did they do it? Jones County had the lowest percentage of slaves in the state of Mississippi. A law passed during the war allowed whites who owned 20 or more slaves to be exempt from fighting. Poor white farmers in south Mississippi had no interest in the war and resented being forced to fight. As Newt Knight famously said, “This is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
Notice that I said the film is mostly accurate. There are some dramatized scenes based on the true story, of details that we cannot know, such as some of the interactions between Newt Knight, his wife Serena, and his common-law African-American wife, Rachel. Also, the film takes major liberties with Newt’s killing of the Confederate officer who was trying to capture Knight. The movie invents a dramatic scene involving an ambush at a funeral and shows Newt killing the officer in a church. The historical records indicate that what really happened was that Newt hunted down Major Amos McLemore at the Deason home in Ellisville, killed the colonel in the house, and then fled. This scene is the only major departure from the historical record that I saw in the film, and even though the film took liberty with the events for the sake of drama, at least got it right that Knight hunted down and killed the man who was trying to capture him.
Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Newt Knight is convincing, as is all of the acting. The costumes and cinematography are realistic and gripping. Little details are correct, such as names of places, and the correct Mississippi flag of that era. The plot appears to reach a climax of victory and then it feels like an alligator painfully dragging you into the swamp. That is because this is not fiction, this is history. History doesn’t always fit into neat plots with satisfying endings. But the adage applies here: truth is stranger than fiction.
Caution: Free State of Jones is rated R for graphic war violence.
(Above: Newt Knight rallies poor people of Jones County to fight.)
Continuing my series of photo blogs on houses of worship, I share a photo that is one of my most recent, but one of my favorites. Providence Baptist Church is an historic congregation that dates back to 1818, yet this church in rural Forrest County, north of the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has a worship center that blends the classic and contemporary. On the classic side, there is the red brick and columns in front, with a white steeple. But the high pitch of the roof in front that juts forward, and the columns rising to meet it, give just the right contemporary touch. Add to that the curb appeal of a country church standing proudly on a hill, and this church building is an amazing eye-catcher.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I love taking photos of houses of worship. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites, and share what I like about them.
I’ll begin with Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This is a classic red brick worship center, especially popular among Baptists. Like many in this style, it has red bricks, with a white column porch in front. Yet this congregation added some other nice touches to that basic design. Notice the stained glass, the cross cut-out in the steeple, and the arched bell tower in front of the worship center, with a cross on top. Simple, yet beautiful.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Years ago when I lived in Mississippi, I visited the Empire State Building in New York City, and I heard a Southern accent from some young ladies. They asked me and my wife, “Are y’all from the South?” We said, “Yes, we’re from Mississippi,” and they said, “Well, we’re from Georgia, and it sounds so good to hear somebody from the South.”Actually, they didn’t say “Georgia,” they said “JAW-ja.” (And I didn’t say, “Mississippi,” I said “Miss-IP-y.”)
I was thinking, how would I feel if I was from New York and came to church down South? There are some great churches in New York; in fact, the Brooklyn Tabernacle is one of the greatest churches in America. But New Yorkers and Southerners have a different culture altogether. I wonder how we could make them feel at home? My sister lived in Manhattan for years, and now lives in Brooklyn. She says a “New York minute” actually lasts 19 seconds. I believe her. So read this rapidly, and maybe you’ll get some ideas for doing church “New York style.”
1. Everybody would have to line up outside the church, and when the doors opened, they would have to rush in as fast as they could and get a seat or find something to hold on to, because the ushers would shut the doors behind them in 10 seconds. Then the pastor would announce in garbled English, “The J-train is leaving the station now. Do not block the entrances!”
2. There would be different seating for Yankees and Mets fans, with armed uniformed policemen separating them.
3. Each member of the congregation would be given a headset so he or she could listen to the sermon in traditional or contemporary English, Spanish, Romanian, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese, Swahili or Yiddish. This would allow them to understand the service without having to actually talk to anybody else.
4. If somebody tried to sit in your pew, you would block his way and say, “Don’t play with me, man.”
5. The pastor would begin his sermon with, “Yo! Youse guys! I’m TALKIN’ to you!”
Our New York friends then could visit JAW-ja or Miss-IP-y or Luzy-anna and feel right at home. After all, didn’t the apostle Paul say, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some”? (1 Corinthians 9:22, HCSB).
(Below is a guest blog from my daughter, Lauren Rogers Knight. She met her husband Philip when they both lived on the coast of Georgia, but after they got married, they moved to their current home on the Mississippi coast. This is the second installment of three guest blogs from my three children.)
My dad asked me to write about the differences in life on the Mississippi gulf coast and life on the coast in Savannah, Georgia.
I think the first difference to note would have to be the reason each of them are tourist destinations. Savannah is a beautiful historic city, with huge beautiful trees, parks, and historic buildings. Tourists come to walk through the squares, along River Street, and visit historic sites like Civil War forts, cemeteries, and churches. On the Mississippi gulf coast, the beach is the attraction. Everything that people come to the coast for is right there along the beach. The huge attraction here is the casinos. There are also some really well-known family owned restaurants that people travel to the coast for.
Also, the weather concerns are another big difference. Both areas are hot and humid, but on the Mississippi gulf coast hurricanes and flooding are huge concerns. In Georgia, hurricanes are a threat, but not a huge concern. On the Mississippi gulf coast, insurance and property taxes prices are very high, especially if you live south of Interstate-10.
Although seafood is obviously popular in both places, there is more of a Cajun influence on the Mississippi gulf coast. Gumbo and poboys are very popular here. Catfish is also extremely popular here in Mississippi. In fact, it is not uncommon to find a catfish restaurant or “catfish house” where it is the only thing on the menu. I remember that in Savannah “low country boil” was popular. That usually includes shrimp, corn, and sausage.
In Savannah, you get out of school for St. Patrick’s Day. On the Mississippi gulf coast, you get out of school for Mardi Gras.
The last difference I can think of is time zone difference. In Georgia, people eat around 7pm, and the local news comes on at 11pm. Here on the coast people do everything earlier. We have usually already eaten by the time 7pm rolls around, and the local news comes on at 10pm.
So whether you’re into catfish or low country boil, beaches or history, Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day, both places are great to visit or reside in!
Mary and I have three children, and we are very proud of all three of them. In the next few days, I will be posting guest blogs by each of them, from the oldest to the youngest.
Our daughter, Melissa Rogers Dalton, is a graduate of Effingham County High School and Mercer University, and is earning a master’s degree from Longwood University. Melissa is married to Steven Dalton of Mechanicsville, Virginia, where they now live. Steven is a child labor investigator for the Virginia Department of Labor. Melissa teaches fourth grade at New Kent Elementary School, and she gave birth to our first grandson, Keagan Dalton, on December 16. She will be writing about how it feels to be a new mother.
Our daughter, Lauren Rogers Knight, is a graduate of Effingham County High School and Mississippi College and is married to Philip “Pip” Knight of Rincon. They live in Gulfport, Mississippi. Pip is an air traffic controller at the Gulfport airport, and Lauren is a service representative for Million Air, a full based operation for private planes, and she is an independent consultant for Rodan and Fields. Lauren will write about the differences and similarity of living on the Georgia coast and the Mississippi coast.
Our son, Wade Rogers, is a graduate of Effingham County High School and is a second year student at Georgia Tech, majoring in business administration. He works at WREK, the student radio station, and announces Georgia Tech baseball games on the radio. Wade will be writing about a week in the life of a college student.