Sunday, August 02, 2009

The State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer

This link is also to the Amazon Kindle version, but the book is available in other formats, including audio CD.

This is the story of how one man's desertion from the Confederate Army started one Mississippi county's secession from the Confederacy.

Newton Knight was one of many white farmers who was forcibly conscripted to serve in the Confederate Army. His home community, Jones County, had even sent a delegate to the Mississippi convention to vote against secession. This delegate was faced with a lot of pressure to vote for secession, however, and voted to go along with it.

What follows is a long insurgency against the Confederacy, who conscripted the unwilling, took their crops and their livestock, and left a bitter, poor, hungry populace behind. They were further abused by the Confederate enforcers who kept taxing them, which made it easier for Newton Knight and his cohorts to hide out and conduct guerrilla skirmishes against them.

Knight and his band of rebels hid out in the same swamps as runaway slaves, who helped them survive in the same inhospitable wilderness. Knight became more sympathetic with the oppressed blacks than he had already been, and eventually married a former slave woman and had a large family with her.

After the Civil War was officially over, hostilities continued against Knight and his relatives and friends for many years. He long feared assassination, and that was not without reason. Mississippi was just too far away from Washington to get much help, and President Grant was too willing to let the locals work it out. Unfortunately, Knight's race-mixing had cost him a lot of friends, and even family members had begun to change their last name to avoid the association.

It was a long, hard, bitter life for a man who just wanted to be left alone. For all practical purposes he had chosen to become a black man in Mississippi, which was a form of race treason in the Jim Crow South.

This book is a gem and easily gets 4 stars.

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