‘Free State of Jones’ not free of historical inaccuracies, Southeastern professor
The recently released movie The Free State of Jones is influenced more by the Hollywood-New York mindset and not on historical records,
according to a Southeastern history professor.
The movie tells the story of former Confederate soldier purportedly turned Union
sympathizer Newton Knight – played by Matthew McConaughey – who led a band of followers,
crossed the color line to marry a former slave, and spawned a community of like-minded
individuals in Jones County, located in southeast Mississippi. The movie is based
on a book by historian Victoria Bynum, explained Samuel C. Hyde Jr., a specialist
in Deep South history and director of the university’s Center for Southeast Louisiana
“According to some, Knight heroically defied the Confederacy sustaining the cause
of the Union in Mississippi, one of the most rebellious states, before courageously
crossing the color line to marry a former slave,” said Hyde. “Thanks to a sympathetic
New Orleans newspaperman and a 1935 biography written by Knight’s son, he was seen
as a modern day Robin Hood, delivering the poor from oppression and facing down evil.”
In 1943, journalist James Street of Jones County wrote the story “Tap Roots,”
which was made into a film designed to glorify the Knight myth and serve as an antidote
for “Gone with the Wind” style nostalgia, Hyde added.
“It was not until 1951, when Newt’s own grandniece published ‘The Echo of the
Black Horn,’ that the other interpretation of Knight became more widespread,” Hyde
said. “In 1984 historian Rudy Leverett published a scholarly interpretation of the
Jones County saga that proved similarly critical of Knight and company.”
According to Hyde, the revised version of Knight revealed evidence indicating
that he was a deserter, murderer, horse thief and bigamist.
“He maintained simultaneous relationships with a white woman and a black woman,
and there is compelling evidence that he fathered children with a daughter of his
black wife from a previous marriage,” Hyde said.
He said trying to define the real Newton Knight is both simple and complex.
“He is both,” Hyde explained. “He did desert the Confederate army after he had
willingly volunteered. He then defied Confederate authorities who sought to press
him and some of his neighbors back into a starved existence of bare feet and ragged
clothing which thousands of other Mississippians grimly endured and fought courageously
despite appalling deprivation. It is also true that he murdered his opponents, defied
racial mores and was a bigamist.”
But were his actions for love of the Union, as the film suggests? Hyde is skeptical.
With the exception of a couple of reports focusing on the activities of deserters
in the area, Hyde said, there is little evidence to dispute that Knight most likely
would have resisted the Union with the same vigor if they sought to press him into
service or seize his crops.
He was certainly a man who took care of his own, Hyde said, and preferred to
be left alone like thousands of other fiercely independent piney woods farmers across
the rural South.
“Whatever position you take on Newton Knight, if you want to know the true man
and the Jones County story, study the historical record,” Hyde said. “In this case,
don’t look for it in this film from Hollywood.”
Southeastern summer art show features artist Nicole Charbonnet
The Southeastern Contemporary Art Gallery is featuring an exhibit of works titled
“Palimpsest” by artist Nicole Charbonnet of New Orleans.
Palimpsest refers to a form of artwork characterized by the superimposition of
textures, images, words and washes of paint and fabric intended to reveal a memory
through semi-transparency of the pre-existing structures, explained Dale Newkirk,
professor of art and director of the gallery.
The exhibit will run through August 25. The gallery, located at 100 East Strawberry
Stadium, is open during the summer from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
The show is free and open to the public.
A New Orleans native, Charbonnet received her master of fine arts degree from
Boston University and her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. She
has also studied at Academie Goetz in Paris and Cleveland Institute of Art in Lacoste,
Among Charbonnet’s awards and honors are grants from the Pollock Krasner Foundation
of New York, the E.D. Foundation of Ridgefield, N.J., and the Elizabeth Greenshields
Foundation of Montreal. She has also received fellowships from the Louisiana Division
of the Arts, the Artists Foundation of New York, and Art Matters, Inc.
For additional information, contact the art program at 549-2193.
Robison appointed to advisory council
The National World War II Museum has appointed William B. Robison (History and Political
Science) and Jerry P. Sanson (Louisiana State University at Alexandria) to the advisory
council for an exhibit on Louisiana’s role in World War II that will be open at the
museum July 2017 through August 2018 and then tour the state for at least three years.
Anyone who knows of (1) surviving WWII veterans who have not been interviewed
on camera or (2) relevant artifacts that owners are willing to loan or donate should
contact Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or exhibit curator James Linn at email@example.com.
The museum sought Robison and Sanson's involvement in the project on the basis
of their documentary film Louisiana During World War II.
Thomas attends RELI
The only participant selected from Louisiana, Blake Thomas, area coordinator for
University Housing, attended the 2016 Regional Entry Level Institute (RELI) at Emory
University in Atlanta, Ga., at the beginning of June. The training opportunity, sponsored
by the Southeast Association of Housing Officers, provided intensive educational sessions
for entry level professionals in the field of housing and residence life.
Thomas also received a SEAHO travel grant to assist with conference expenses.
Thomas has served as the area coordinator for Southeastern Oaks Apartment Complex,
Greek Village, Cardinal Newman and Tangipahoa Halls since summer 2014.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to meet so many (32 specifically) great individuals
working in an entry level position, like myself, in the area of housing and residence
life; as well as the 10 faculty members, many of them in middle to upper level management
positions from assistant directors to chief housing officers,” he said.
Thomas said during his time at RELI, the faculty members covered a variety of
topics, such as supervision, social justice, facilities management, budget, crisis
management, assessment, occupancy management and residence education. In addition
to the wealth of knowledge he gained from the presentations, he had the opportunity
to attend round-table discussions with the two co-chairs of RELI, participate in one-on-one
time with a designated faculty member, build rapport with the cluster of four through
designated “cluster time,” and had the opportunity to ask questions of each of the
faculty members through a session known as the “Faculty Carousel.”
“RELI has made a huge impact on me, by allowing me to reflect on my future career,
find my ‘WHY,’ and think about where I hope to be in the next few years,” Thomas said.
“I had an unforgettable experience on a beautiful campus, and I highly recommend all
entry level professionals working in housing and residence life to apply for RELI.”
Louisiana during World War II free download
Louisiana During World War II is now available for free download for use in the classroom or for private viewing
by anyone. Please share it with anyone who may be interested. And let us know what
This is a six-part, 75-minute documentary written by Jerry P. Sanson (Louisiana
State University at Alexandria), directed, edited and narrated by William B. Robison
(Southeastern), and funded in part by a U.S. Department of Education Teaching American
History Grant awarded to the Tangipahoa Parish School District in partnership with
the Department of History and Political Science at Southeastern, for which Master
Teacher Ann Trappey served as Project Director.
You can stream the film or download it from YouTube as the following URL’s:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Economic Boom
Part 3: Military Life
Part 4: Life During Wartime
Part 5: Minorities
Part 6: The War Ends
The film examines Louisiana’s many contributions to the Allied victory in World
War II and how the war affected the state. It is based on Jerry Sanson’s seminal study,
Louisiana During World War II: Politics and Society 1939-1945 (LSU Press, 1999).
The film features commentary from a dozen experts and addresses military maneuvers
in Louisiana; the military installations at Camps Beauregard, Claiborne, Livingston,
and elsewhere; the contributions of Higgins Industries, Standard Oil, and many other
Louisiana manufacturers to the war effort; and the war’s impact on state politics,
the economy, culture, race, and gender.
JMIH returns to New Orleans
A group of biologists will gather in New Orleans from July 6-10 for the annual Joint
Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH). More than 1,200 registrants,
who study fishes, reptiles, and amphibians, will meet at the Marriott Hotel to discuss
their latest advancements and discoveries.
The JMIH meets on an annual basis throughout North America and was one of the
first major groups to meet in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Now, a decade
later, the group is again meeting in the Crescent City. Two local universities, Southeastern
and Tulane, and associated faculty are serving as the hosts for this meeting.
For more information, please contact Dr. Kyle Piller, local host and Southeastern
professor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.