A rebellion against the Confederacy by poor white farmers in Jones County loyal to the Union, joined by a few former slaves, led to the establishment of the “Free State of Jones” during the Civil War. This will be the focus of a discussion next Monday, April 10, by two prominent Jones County natives – retired U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering and Jones County Junior College history instructor Wyatt Moulds – and Charles Overby, chairman and host of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss.
The program, free and open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. in the Overby Center Auditorium. A reception will be held following the event.
The uprising in Jones County has been the subject of several books and was dramatized last year in a movie, “The Free State of Jones,” starring Matthew McConaughey in the role of Newton Knight, the leader of a guerrilla operation that succeeded in seizing control of part of the county. (See trailer below.)
The breakaway movement eventually failed, but with the defeat of the Confederacy and the implementation of Reconstruction in the South, Knight continued to led an interracial struggle in the southeast Mississippi county.
The review of these events more than a century and a half ago is the latest in a series this year at the Overby Center in connection with the 200th anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood.
“We are going to talk about the impact of the Free State of Jones – the movie and the historical event – on the past and the present,” said Overby.
Pickering was born in Laurel – one of two seats of government in the colorful county – and attended Jones Junior College before earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi in 1959 and a law degree in 1961. He served as U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Mississippi for 14 years.
Moulds has been a member of the faculty at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville since 1982, served as an advisor to Gary Ross, the director of the film, and is considered a leading authority on the subject of Knight’s insurgency.