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Film review: The Free State of Jones

By Frank Chapman |
June 27, 2016
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The Free State of Jones is worth seeing. (FightBack!News/Staff)

Chicago, IL - The Free State of Jones is a movie, now playing in Chicago, that portrays the story of how poor white farmers and slaves rebelled against the Confederacy during the Civil War of 1861-65. This movie was directed by Gary Ross and written by Leonard Hartman and Gary Ross. It’s about two and a half hours long.

Although this movie is based on the historical fact that there was rebellion in the South against the Slave-Holders’ rebellion that created the Confederate States of America it is still fiction, a work of art. Yet it is a compelling story of a heroic effort by slaves and poor white dirt farmers to create the Free State of Jones in the heart of the Confederate South: a state where there were no slaves and everyone had the right to harvest what they sowed.

Let me start with a simple quote from Ms. Dorothy Burnworth, a fifth grade history teacher, who said to her students: “Do not believe the myth that Robert E. Lee and the Confederates were chivalrous gentlemen fighting to preserve Southern honor. They were traitors to the Union, fighting to preserve slaves.”

And that is precisely the message this movie begins with. Newton Knight, a poor white farmer in the Confederate army, discovers that if you own 20 slaves you will be discharged to go home to your family. That was Knight’s moment of truth when it became clear to him that he was fighting so rich white slave holders could stay in power.

Karl Marx, in a letter to President Lincoln in 1864, called the Confederate Slave-Holders’ Rebellion a “general holy crusade of Property against Labor.”

In the South that meant 4 million slaves and 5 million white peasants (small farmers) who did not own slaves were all under the oppressive iron heel of 300,000 slave holding plantation owners.

One of the most radical measures take during the Civil War was the breaking up of the large plantations and re-dividing the land between the freed slaves and poor farmers. Black people at this time were promised 40 acres and a mule. Shortly after President Lincoln was assassinated, his successor, President Johnson, gave the plantation owners their land back, provided they swore allegiance to the Union. This so-called redemption measure laid the material basis for the counter-revolution buttressed by KKK terrorism which in one fell sweep made Black people perhaps the largest landless peasant population in the world.

The Civil War then was more than just a falling out between Northern industrial capitalists and the agrarian slave-holding capitalists of the South, for its revolutionary side was that it was also the uprising of Black slaves and many poor white farmers who seized the time to strike a revolutionary blow for freedom.

I strongly recommend that everyone see this movie because what it is really about is the unfinished democratic revolution the Civil War started. We are still living in the counter-revolution, post-Civil War era where there is still a general crusade of property against labor, and where Black folk, through mass incarceration are still being re-enslaved and denied that most fundamental right of citizenship, the right to vote.

Now like then, we need the united organized struggle of Black, brown and white workers to finish the democratic revolution the Civil War started. The reason why the battle for democracy in the South and the nation was lost is because the U.S. government refused to totally abolish slavery and address its devastating effects socially, economically and politically on Black people as an oppressed nation within this republic.

The U.S. government is still refusing to address the democratic and revolutionary demands of the Black liberation movement and the working class movement. Before we can advance and finish what was started by the Civil War we must break the resistance of the 1% to the democratic demands of the people’s movement.