If you have not seen the movie or read the book, The Free State of Jones, it is a classic that totally destroys southern racial myths. One of the myths shattered by the book and the movie is the fact that many white soldiers deserted the Confederacy after they realized they were fighting for wealthy slave owning plantation men. After the American Revolutionary War, many whites migrated to Mississippi. Many of these families moved into what became known as Jones County, Mississippi. These white men would later marry black women and declare war against the Confederate States of America (CSA). They became known as “Southern Yankees.”
The South has sought to falsify history by denying that thousands of whites deserted the Confederate Army, and in the case of Mississippi actually declared secession from the Confederate States of America (CSA) and defied Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee in their opposition to supporting slavery. Ancestors of the slave owners adopted fake history and falsely educated folks with lies which enforced an inflexiblephilosophy of racism. This led to erecting statues and symbols to enshrine bigotry across centuries by a movement called the “Redeemers.” These so-called redeemers were actually racists that sought to distort the true history of the war and the fact that the Civil War was mainly about white supremacy and slavery. In order to create racial myths, the former slave owners had to hide the fact that thousands of whites refused to support the South and its racist belief system.
Jones County, the home of Newton Knight, a real hero, lived in the Piney Woods of Mississippi. It was not land suitable for growing cotton and owning slaves but was best suited for the raising farm animals. Slavery was the American dream at that time, and though most whites did not own slaves, many of them still supported white supremacy. This, in part, is what led Newt Knight to lead a rebellion against the racist minions of Jefferson Davis. In 1864, Newton Knight his company of soldiers tooverthrew the Confederate power structure and raised the United States flag over the courthouse in Ellisville, Mississippi. They created the Free State of Jones, and it essentially seceded from the CSA.
Across Mississippi, the adversaries of the slave owners were often tormented in what whites from that time described as, “A reign of terror.” Many were forced into the army at gunpoint, and told that they would be killed if they did not support the slave-owner cause. The Confederate authorities passed a law called the, “Twenty-Negro Law.” This law allowed planters who owned twenty slaves to be discharged from the draft. This made it possible for wealthy whites to avoid fighting and make poor whites die for them. In essence, poor whites fought an unjust war by being sucker punched by the wealthy plantation owners. In short, Confederate soldiers were pawns of the slave owners. Many poor whites during that time said the law, “Made it a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
Confederate power brokers also inflicted more pain upon poor whites with a “tax-in-kind” scheme. This tariff allowed tax packrats in Mississippi to take whatever they wanted from poor whites. According to research on several legitimate online websites, “They took meat from the smokehouses. They took horses, hogs, chickens, and corn. They took cloth the women had saved to make clothes for the children. Confederate Colonel William N. Brown reported that the corrupt Confederate tax officials had done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army” (Source: mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/309/newton-knight-and-the-legend-of-the-free-state-of-jones). So much for the noble cause of the South! Most of what we were taught about the Confederacy was pure lies and some still believe this hogwash.The soldiers that fought for the Confederacy should be recognized as victimized poor people that were manipulated by an evil power.
Knight helped black slaves escape from Confederate authorities. He married a black woman named Rachel Knight and defied southern segregation even in death as he demanded to be buried next to his wife, which was done. Newt Knight’s modern relatives, both black and white, are alive today to tell the story about how many whites refused to fight for Robert E. Lee.During the Civil War many poor whites felt they had more in common with black slaves than with slave owners. Jim Crow finally set in after the defeat of Reconstruction, and Confederatestatues and monuments began to jump up everywhere by racist design. Fortunately, cities across America are removing these symbols of hatred and one can only hope that San Antonio will do the same thing. Museums don’t erase history, and relocatingthe statue in Travis Park to a museum would go a long way for San Antonio to say that it rejects racism in the Free State of San Antonio!