The Free State of Jones

  • by Victoria E. Bynum
  • Narrated by Mahershala Ali
  • 7 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Actor Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) performs the gripping tale of an armed band of Confederate deserters and slaves living in a mixed-race community who rose up against the Confederate Cavalry in 1863 to form their own republic, free of slavery, in what is now the state of Mississippi. The community they formed - and the ambiguous racial identity of their descendants - confounded the rules of the segregated South well into the 20th century.
In bridging the gap between the legendary and the real Free State of Jones, author Victoria Bynum unwraps the legend - what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out.

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What the Critics Say

"[T]he original book is even more explosive than the film adaptation....It's read by House of Cards and Hunger Games: Mockingjay actor Mahershala Ali (who's also appearing in the upcoming Luke Cage series on Netflix, as well as [the film] Free State of Jones), whose rumbling baritone makes for an addictive listen. Since he's not currently reading every audiobook in existence, as we'd prefer, we'll have to settle for this one." [A.V. Club]

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

I really wanted to like it, but...

What was most disappointing about Victoria E. Bynum’s story?

Perhaps the story is more coherent and lively for someone reading the book to herself. I found it hard to keep up with all the details of names, dates, and relations by listening to the book. It came across more as a textbook than an impassioned story of untold history.


How did the narrator detract from the book?

I was excited to see that Mahershala Ali was the narrator as I am a big fan of his film and TV work. I was greatly disappointed to listen to his narration though. His voice was monotone and the reading lacked the emotional emphasis required to make the story more interesting.


What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

I'm not sure if it was the boring narration that made the book seem dry, or a lack of emotional connection the author's telling of facts that made the listening difficult, but either way I was disappointed.


Any additional comments?

Like another reviewer, I found the book difficult to listen to from the very beginning. I forced myself to keep listening, thinking that surely the characters would eventually become more interesting or that the story itself would become more riveting. I have a strong interest in history, and even have ancestors from nearby Jones County who lived during the same time period as those in the book. Nonetheless, I still couldn't make a personal connection to this book.

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- Kit

Stirring Defiance Against Southern Tyranny


A significant, but obscured, piece of American Civil War History and a deserving chapter on stirring defiance against tyranny in the tomes of Western Civilization: a nearly 3 year insurrection against the Confederate States of America led by Newton Knight and the Knight Company (a band of Civil War deserters) in Jones County, Mississippi.

[Full disclosure: According to the table of consanguinity, aka, the "cousin chart," I am a first cousin, 4 times removed, of Newton Knight, and I lived in Jones County, MS from the age of 8 to 18].

The background and reasons for this insurgency against the Confederacy are complex, and primarily relate to class: Jones County had the lowest slave population in all of Mississippi, not being blessed with the fertile lands of the Mississippi Delta region and many felt they were wrongfully called to fight the rich man plantation/slave owner's war for slaves and cotton.

Newt Knight, a yeoman farmer who owned no slaves, nevertheless enlisted for service early on because his cousins had and it was looked at as a more favorable alternative to being conscripted. Having been injured in late 1861 and highly indignant upon hearing of the Confederacy's recent passage of the "Twenty-Slave" law allowing an exemption from Confederate army service of one rich white male for every 20 slaves he/his family owned, Knight's last straws were hearing how his family was treated by an unsavory character with Confederate ties as well as how Knight's only horse had been appropriated as a "Confederate tax" by the Confederate cavalry. He deserted and returned to Jones County, after which he and his band unleashed a hellfire upon Confederates.

Quite a suspenseful drama is the whole story, including Knight's long-time affair with Rachel Knight, a slave of his father; the two had children together and ultimately became common law husband and wife.

The racist drama continued well into the 20th century with a 1948 miscegenation trial of Davis Knight, one of the male descendants who'd married a "white lady." The trial turned upon whether Davis' great-grandmother, Rachel, was "full-blooded" black or was partly Native American. If the latter then Davis would not be the proscribed 1/8 black (a so-called "octoroon") prohibited from marrying a white lady.

Bynum paints the story perfectly with her well-documented, thorough research and her more than capable recounting.

Mahershala Ali's superb acting talent shines in his inspired narration.

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- W Perry Hall

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-03-2016
  • Publisher: Audible Studios