Between late 1863 and mid-1864, an armed band of Confederate deserters battled Confederate cavalry in the Piney Woods region of Jones County, Mississippi. Calling themselves the Knight Company after their captain, Newton Knight, they set up headquarters in the swamps of the Leaf River, where they declared their loyalty to the U.S. government.
The story of the Jones County rebellion is well known among Mississippians, and debate over whether the county actually seceded from the state during the war has smoldered for more than a century. Adding further controversy to the legend is the story of Newt Knight’s interracial romance with his wartime accomplice, Rachel, a slave. From their relationship there developed a mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended, and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants confounded the rules of segregated Mississippi well into the twentieth century.
In the following video, Actor Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) shares the experience of transforming The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War into an audiobook for Audible. He talks about the importance of bringing stories to life through narration, particularly in documenting such a significant part of history. Ali recounts stories from Free State of Jones that grabbed his attention, and describes the appeal of these stories to twenty-first century audiences. (Running time 2:27)
Listen to Ali in a sample of The Free State of Jones audiobook on SoundCloud here: