Received the following letter from my old friend and comrade, Ed Voci:
“’Mississippi Missive, A Ballad About the Free State of Jones’” has occupied me off and on for 20 years. The song will be available very soon from Amazon, iTunes, eMusic and other on-line music vendors as well as from Woodstock Records. Play it LOUD!
“Thanks to Gina (for answering Levon’s call and waking me up), Francesca (for the Jones County photos on our way to Tulane University) and Renata (for singing Miss-Miss so beautifully to me). Thanks also to Noel Ignatiev and Ken Lawrence (mentors who introduced me to my Jones County heroes) and special thanks to my musical heroes Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell and Aaron “Prof. Louie” Hurwitz. Baci e abbracci a tutti.
“p.s. The best book on Jones County is by Victoria E. Bynum. She will have a cameo appearance as a nurse in the movie due out at the end of this month.”
From the liner notes:
“a country soul rocking anthem for an amazing episode … a story of the Free State of Jones County [Mississippi] which took a heroic stand against a ‘rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight’ and for equality, an extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy.”
Lyrics: Edward Voci
Music: Kevin Russell, Aaron L. Hurwitz
Recorded by Professor Louie and the Crowmatix
Noel Ignatiev says
Thanks for asking about whether the tombstone/CSA flag on the “Mississippi Missive” artwork was “necessary.” The tombstone/CSA flag photo and the pine tree photo were among dozens of photos Francesca and I snapped in Jones County in 2010 and I submitted to Woodstock Records which selected those two photos for the artwork. When I questioned the use of the tombstone/CSA flag photo, Woodstock Records acknowledged the potential for controversy (“let’s hope so!”—ah, marketing—and to which your inquiry attests). Woodstock Records also pointed out that the photo as artwork portrayed two things: 1) the symbolic “death” of the CSA in Jones County during the Civil War and 2) the ironic reality of present day Jones County where pro-CSA sentiment exists as evidenced, of course, by that flag and also, as I learned from watching the CBSSunday Morning show yesterday, by the existence of the “Jones County Rosin Heels, Camp 227 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.” Given the content of the song and the Free State of Jones history, the symbolic “death” of the CSA in the artwork is appropriate. At the same time the photo acknowledges and reminds that white supremacy continues or “lives.” Ah, duality.
I’m including below the “Mississippi Missive” lyrics which include the line, “After the war and jubilee blue faded to gray and so did we,” a reference to the post-War withdrawal of Union troops, the overthrow of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow and the demise of the Free State of Jones in fact and spirit, all of which explain the presence of the tombstone/CSA flag in the Jones County cemetery six years ago. Btw, that day in Jones County we could not find Newt and Rachel Knight’s tombstones and, if we had, I would have argued for those photos to appear in the artwork.
Hopefully, the movie (not released yet, so I haven’t seen it—though on the CBS Sunday Show both director Gary Ross and Matthew McConaughey gave excellent interviews and the film clips were promising), Victoria Bynum’s book and maybe even “Mississippi Missive” will rekindle the Free State of Jones spirit and the necessity today of acting boldly for equality everywhere.
One Big Free State!
copyright 1996 Edward Voci
Jones County voted ‘gainst a rich man’s war
kind that ‘git fought by the mostly poor
names not heard at the rebel roll call
Ballentine, Bynum and Sumerall
we carved a declaration on a big pine tree
The Free State of Jones was bound to be
We picked our cotton and cotton’d no slaves
Rachel rocked her cradle
while we dug our own graves
The Free State of Jones was born that day
every soul knew there’d be a toll to pay
ol’ Newt Knight rallied our kin
even Japser Collins quit drinkin’ gin
took command of ten score men
The Free State of Jones fought against a sin
Runaways came like a levee flood
we all ate grits from the same tin tub
Lowery raided and we powdered our guns
took no prisoners and our heroes swung
cold and martyred from that pine tree’s limb
The Free State of Jones fought against a sin
After the war and jubilee
blue faded to gray and so did we
we fell and milled that big pine tree
for a school where young’ns could write ‘n read
the sweet pine scent of fresh sawn wood
our saplings root where our missive once stood