Escape rainy day with Civil War movie

Published 12:03am Friday, January 11, 2013

Don’t miss your last public opportunity to enjoy a Civil War-related movie filmed in the Natchez area!

The 1979 TV movie based on Howard Fast’s novel, “Freedom Road,” will be shown at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center theatre at 4 p.m. Saturday — immediately preceded by Professor Jim Wiggins’ scholarly discussion of Reconstruction at 3 p.m.

In this fictional movie, the Natchez region is used to represent Virginia, and it tracks the rise of a character named Gideon Jackson (portrayed by boxer Muhammad Ali) from enslavement to the U.S. Senate.

Other well-known actors include Kris Kristofferson, Ossie Davis and Alfre Woodard.

I first learned of this film nearly 20 years ago when I came across slide images of Muhammad Ali in period dress seated at the Melrose dining room table! That certainly piqued my interest.

The film explores the politics and racial issues of the post-Civil War South with a positive focus on the struggles of the formerly enslaved. Ironically, the same real person who inspired the hero for this film was portrayed by D.W. Griffith as a villain in his 1915 film, Birth of a Nation.

The diverse perspectives on the same historical events are among the topics Prof. Wiggins will address.

How quickly could the nation move toward political order and racial equality after bloody war? Who should be allowed to vote or hold office? Did the actions of some groups constitute what we would call terrorism?

There are strong local parallels to this story, as Hiram Revels of Natchez became the first African American to sit in either house of Congress when he was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Mississippi Legislature in 1870 — but he had lived as a free person of color, not a slave.

Revels, pastor of Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, had never been able to vote. He served one year in the Senate, then became president of the new Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College.

The film story more closely tracks the experience of John R. Lynch, who was enslaved at Taconey Plantation in Concordia Parish and at Dunleith in Natchez.

He entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1873, where he helped pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Lynch served in Congress through 1882, served as Treasury Auditor for the Navy, then studied law, served in the Army during the Spanish American War, practiced law in Chicago and wrote a ground-breaking book, “The Facts of Reconstruction.”

Mark your calendar for another Civil War-themed film on Feb. 9, leading up to our 2013 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, “Fiction, Fact and Film: The Civil War’s Imprint on Southern Culture,” Feb. 21-24.

With the rainy weather we are having this week, a Saturday afternoon movie and lively discussion are a great option. Seating in the visitor center theater is limited, so please come early.

Information about the NLCC film series is available at, or by calling 601-446-1289.


Kathleen Jenkins is the superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park.