Actor Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) performs the gripping tale of an armed band of Confederate deserters and slaves living in a mixed-race community who rose up against the Confederate Cavalry in 1863 to form their own republic, free of slavery, in what is now the state of Mississippi. The community they formed - and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants - confounded the rules of the segregated South well into the 20th century.
In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, author Victoria Bynum unwraps the legend - what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out.
What was most disappointing about Victoria E. Bynum’s story?
Perhaps the story is more coherent and lively for someone reading the book to herself. I found it hard to keep up with all the details of names, dates, and relations by listening to the book. It came across more as a textbook than an impassioned story of untold history.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
I was excited to see that Mahershala Ali was the narrator as I am a big fan of his film and TV work. I was greatly disappointed to listen to his narration though. His voice was monotone and the reading lacked the emotional emphasis required to make the story more interesting.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
I'm not sure if it was the boring narration that made the book seem dry, or a lack of emotional connection the author's telling of facts that made the listening difficult, but either way I was disappointed.
Any additional comments?
Like another reviewer, I found the book difficult to listen to from the very beginning. I forced myself to keep listening, thinking that surely the characters would eventually become more interesting or that the story itself would become more riveting. I have a strong interest in history, and even have ancestors from nearby Jones County who lived during the same time period as those in the book. Nonetheless, I still couldn't make a personal connection to this book.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
A significant, but obscured, piece of American Civil War History and a deserving chapter on stirring defiance against tyranny in the tomes of Western Civilization: a nearly 3 year insurrection against the Confederate States of America led by Newton Knight and the Knight Company (a band of Civil War deserters) in Jones County, Mississippi.
[Full disclosure: According to the table of consanguinity, aka, the "cousin chart," I am a first cousin, 4 times removed, of Newton Knight, and I lived in Jones County, MS from the age of 8 to 18].
The background and reasons for this insurgency against the Confederacy are complex, and primarily relate to class: Jones County had the lowest slave population in all of Mississippi, not being blessed with the fertile lands of the Mississippi Delta region and many felt they were wrongfully called to fight the rich man plantation/slave owner's war for slaves and cotton.
Newt Knight, a yeoman farmer who owned no slaves, nevertheless enlisted for service early on because his cousins had and it was looked at as a more favorable alternative to being conscripted. Having been injured in late 1861 and highly indignant upon hearing of the Confederacy's recent passage of the "Twenty-Slave" law allowing an exemption from Confederate army service of one rich white male for every 20 slaves he/his family owned, Knight's last straws were hearing how his family was treated by an unsavory character with Confederate ties as well as how Knight's only horse had been appropriated as a "Confederate tax" by the Confederate cavalry. He deserted and returned to Jones County, after which he and his band unleashed a hellfire upon Confederates.
Quite a suspenseful drama is the whole story, including Knight's long-time affair with Rachel Knight, a slave of his father; the two had children together and ultimately became common law husband and wife.
The racist drama continued well into the 20th century with a 1948 miscegenation trial of Davis Knight, one of the male descendants who'd married a "white lady." The trial turned upon whether Davis' great-grandmother, Rachel, was "full-blooded" black or was partly Native American. If the latter then Davis would not be the proscribed 1/8 black (a so-called "octoroon") prohibited from marrying a white lady.
Bynum paints the story perfectly with her well-documented, thorough research and her more than capable recounting.
Mahershala Ali's superb acting talent shines in his inspired narration.
35 of 44 people found this review helpful
Thank you Professor Bynam for this informative, engaging and inspiring historic work; beautifully narrated by Mr. Ali. For someone of mixed ancestry like myself it is a veritable, educational and edifying read, as it carefully yet explicitly details the roots of dysfunction that still plague race relations in the U.S.A.; both between Blacks & others, as well as within the Black community itself. I hope the upcoming film prompts more people to read this masterpiece thoroughly.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
I’m the executive producer of this audiobook-- so of course I am one of its biggest fans. But I thought you might like to know a little behind the scenes.
Like most people, I had no idea that there were white and white/black communities of the deep South that resisted the Confederacy and rejected slavery. They were not as “prim” as the Northern abolitionists, to say the least! I was fascinated to meet the author, Victoria Bynum, who had learned she herself was a Jones County descendant.
When she began work on the film-to-be, we started talking about how we could bring the audiobook to life in a new way. What a dream it was to work with co-star Mahershala Ali, who brought so much respect and interest to every little detail of the performance. I LOVE real American history from primary sources, all the little clues about what really happened, behind the cliches. All politics is “personal,” and “local”! This is the kind of story that proves that a million times over...
14 of 18 people found this review helpful
Great history and narration. I've already ordered the book to read the endnotes! Impeccably researched!
11 of 14 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
We typically imagine the Civil War as long lines of men clad in blue and gray, on the fields of Antietam or Gettysburg, led by larger-than-life generals. But the conflict also played out on the community level, where political allegiances weren't always determined by the Mason-Dixon and the rules of "civilized" warfare didn't always apply. Newt Knight and his Free State of Jones were a perfect case in point. If you're interested in a gripping look at the darker side of the Civil War -- replete with guerrilla violence, southern Unionism, and a diverse cast including female and African American characters -- this is a book worth adding to your library. Victoria Bynum is the undisputed authority on this topic and *The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War* is as close to definitive as histories get.
10 of 13 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to The Free State of Jones again? Why?
I'd definitely listen to The Free State of Jones again. How wonderful that Audible succeeded in getting actor Mahershala Ali to narrate. Looking forward to seeing him in the upcoming movie by the same name. He's a highly capable actor! I love, too, that we get to hear the voice of the author as she narrates the Preface and Afterword to the new version of her groundbreaking book that came out several years ago.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Newton Knight would be the obvious choice as my favorite character--for many reasons, but I also think Rachel Knight and Jasper Collins are fascinating characters in their own right.
What does Mahershala Ali bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
Ali's deep voice brings alive the compelling story with firm conviction and gravitas, capturing its many nuances through intonation and inflections that make clear the importance and meaning of the story told in the book.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
The book definitely made me want to listen to it all in one setting, but I had to listen in two because a knock at the door brought a lengthy interruption.
Any additional comments?
I'm eager to see what Hollywood does with this story!
7 of 9 people found this review helpful
Audio version is well delivered and so historically rich in the telling of the story. Want to really understand the background and experiences of our ancestors?...Read, listen and reflect on the contents of this book...The Free State of Jones! EXCELLENT.
8 of 11 people found this review helpful
I found that it was told well, very descriptive and easy to follow yet, I found following the family tree quite challenging
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Fascinating story for the Civil War enthusiast, as well as those are interested in the American Civil Rights movement. A bit hard to follow via audio as the Knight family tree speeds through the Revolutionary War all the into the mid twentieth century.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful