“The winds are shifting and you can’t fight it this time,” said Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). “There’s plenty left to fight for,” responded Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey). Newton Knight was the protagonist in The Free State of Jones. Knight was a revolutionary who cared about people, not profit. He felt sorrow when he saw young men dying prematurely in the confederate army and felt anger when African Americans were treated inhumanely. Knight was convinced there was plenty to fight for. His convictions resulted in him starting the Free State of Jones county and fighting for it. He fought not just for the county, but he fought for equality for his black brothers and sisters. Knight displayed three characteristics that are applicable in relieving racial tension today.
Knight Acknowledged African-American Humanity
“Number four, every man is a man. If you walk on two legs, you’re a man. It’s as simple as that” said Newton Knight as he declared the stipulations of being a part of the free state of Jones. This was a radical statement for blacks to hear because they had been considered property, not people since birth. In the movie, Knight was never seen as a person who treated slaves like an expendable resource.
When his son fell ill and he didn’t have access to a doctor, he was told about Rachel, a female slave, who could offer him help. She fearfully came to his home and nursed his son back to good health. He treated her like a human, not a resource while she was there. Knight offered to fetch supplies for her when she insisted on doing it. In addition, when she was getting ready to depart he grabbed her hands, thanked her, and gave her a piece of gold. She perceived it as doing what she was loaned to do, but he saw it as an act of kindness displayed to his son by another human being. Knight perceived black people as individuals created in the image of God in a time where he could have easily developed the elitist attitude that was common among whites.
Knight Spoke For Them
Moses Washington (Mahershala Ali) was a close black friend of Knight. There is a scene in the movie where Knight and his companions are celebrating a victory by roasting a pig. The white people started eating the pig first then the blacks got their portion. Washington was the first to retrieve his portion. While doing so he was asked by a white individual “Whatcha think you doing n****?” He continued to pick up his meat and then responds. It seems as though Washington was about to be a victim of a racial crime, but then Knight speaks up. He affirms that Washington has as much right to this meat as he does.
Knight lived with his black sisters and brothers. He ate, slept, and worked with them. Once he was questioned about living in Soso, MS because a person made a statement akin to “isn’t that where all the n***** are?” He responded with a statement akin to“we don’t have any n*****.” A statement that could have cost a black person his life. Knight used his privilege to speak on behalf of those who were still thought of as partially human.
Knight Acknowledged and Utilized His Privilege
He was raised in a society in which he possessed certain privileges that were not afforded to his black companions. He exercised his privilege to protect them. When Moses Washington’s son was kidnapped, Knight accompanied his armed and angry friend. “They will arrest me, but they will kill you,” said Knight as he insisted on going with Moses to find his son. He went to court and bought back Washington’s son because he had the ability to do so.
Another example of this was the scene where he walks to the voting office with a number of blacks. They marched to the voting office singing “John Brown.” If they were alone they were more likely to be shot down in the streets. Although, Knight walked with them into the voting office and demanded a Republican ballot. He was the voice for his black family and as a result they each received ballots (which were not counted in the election). He utilized his privilege to benefit those who were marginalized in society.
The Fight Is Not Over
This movie brought to mind the PBS documentary “Many Rivers To Cross.” This documentary displays how throughout history little battles have been won but there is a war still being fought. Laws and policies do not change the hearts of men. The sins of racism, partiality, and injustice are still present in this world. No human institution can eradicate them. Sin will not exit this world until Jesus enters again.
Until then, we need to acknowledge that God’s image-bearers are victims of racism, partiality, and injustice. If we can not admit this we are naive to the power of sin in this world. Admitting that the people mentioned in the news, blogs, and statuses were people crafted by the hand of God before they were hashtags is the first step to making progress. Then we can truly “weep with those who weep”,” mourn with those who mourn”, and “rejoice with those who rejoice”. When we realize their humanity we will speak for them, not argue innocence. We don’t have to know all the facts, just one: God created them. The helpful utilization of certain privileges will not happen until we acknowledge people are worth being spoken for and need you to speak for them because sin hinders their voices from being heard. Coming to grips with the reality of God’s image-bearers that are dying and being hindered from being heard because of sin’s power in this world leads you to the fact that “There is plenty left to fight for” and the gospel is the only viable weapon in this war.