Most Americans have heard of Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who helped countless other slaves escape to freedom along the Underground Railroad. But far fewer have heard of Jim Young, a black slave who risked his own safety to help two white Union soldiers escape Confederate imprisonment and reach the North.
The film is based on the real-life diaries of Joseph Hoover, a soldier in the Union army who was captured and imprisoned by Confederate forces. Hoover then escaped and found his way back to the North with the help of Young and a few other slaves. And now readers can get the companion book by WND Books, “Union Bound: He Went to War to Free the Slaves But Was Freed by Them.”
Michael Davis, who produced the movie and co-authored the book, said he was drawn to the story partly because of its rarity.
“What makes it interesting is it’s one of the few written accounts of slaves helping white men to freedom, not just slaves helping slaves through the Underground Railroad, but actually helping Union soldiers get to freedom as well,” Davis said in a recent interview on the “Stand for Truth” radio show with Susan Knowles.
Davis, president of Uptone Pictures, told Knowles he’s always had an interest in the Civil War. After he finished work on a film called “Destiny Road,” some of Joseph Hoover’s descendants approached him and said the story might make a compelling subject for a film or documentary.
The family showed Davis several of Hoover’s artifacts, including medals, photographs and diaries. They had been researching Hoover for 15 years and possessed his war records, medical records, discharge papers and many more volumes of documents. Davis was fascinated as he read through it all.
“At that point, I was like, ‘OK, I’m in; what do we have to do?'” he recalled.
One thing they had to do was to find suitable actors. When Davis first saw a picture of the real Joseph Hoover from 1863, he thought to himself, “Oh my gosh, that’s Sean Stone with a mustache and a beard.”
Stone, the son of director Oliver Stone, is an actor and director with whom Davis had worked previously. Davis pitched the idea to “Union Bound” director Harvey Lowry, and Stone accepted the role of Joseph Hoover.
“I think Sean did a great job of being Joseph Hoover – not just on the look, but also diving into that character,” Davis said.
However, while the film is based on Hoover’s diaries, Davis asserted Young is really the hero of the story for helping Hoover and his fellow soldier escape alive. For the role of Young, Lowry recommended Tank Jones, who had appeared in a number of TV shows and commercials. Davis trusted Lowry and was not let down.
“Tank personifies Jim Young extremely well, and I think, personally, he does a phenomenal job,” Davis said.
Knowles, for her part, said she particularly enjoyed Jones’ performance because she felt he was very authentic. And he was, according to Davis, because he took his role very seriously. On his off days, he would visit museums or battlefields in the area to try and learn more about the Civil War so he could inhabit his character even more.
“Even though he wasn’t on set every day, he was consistently trying to polish up and really work at his character and his craft,” Davis revealed. “Phenomenal.”
Davis gave an example of Jones’ dedication to his character. There is one scene in which Jim Young meets his mother, whom he has not seen in a long time. Davis said Jones had never met the actress who played his mother, and he avoided meeting her until they filmed that scene to portray authentically.
Knowles, who had recently viewed the film, commented several times on the authenticity of the whole production.
“I loved the authenticity to the time period,” she marveled. “I felt like you really were there when you were watching it and you were emotionally connected to the people in the movie.”
Davis said he and Lowry made a concerted effort to make the film as genuine as possible, from the costumes to the scenery to the dialogue to the characters’ mannerisms. To that end, the filmmakers employed a Civil War consultant to help them capture the era.
According to Davis, one poignant moment in the film occurs when Thomas J. Ryan, Hoover’s fellow soldier, takes his hat off while saying goodbye to Jim Young. It would have been unusual for a white man of the time to do that in front of a slave, but the filmmakers wanted to demonstrate just how much respect the two white captives had for Young.
“For a white man to take his hat off was a huge sign of respect,” Davis explained. “A lot of people don’t realize that, but it’s a very poignant moment in the movie, showing how much respect they had for [Young] for saving their lives.”
In fact, the human element was the central focus of the movie, Davis confessed.
“This isn’t a story – even though it’s set during the Civil War and there are some Civil War moments as far as battles and stuff – the movie is not about the battles of the Civil War,” he said. “We wanted to capture more of the human side of things and what the men were feeling and doing during that time.”
The movie portrays a real-life positive relationship between a slave and two white men, which Knowles pointed out is not the image public schools usually convey when teaching children about the Civil War period. She believes families with children should see the film so they can learn some things about the Civil War they might not learn in school.
“The message in school is going to be, ‘Everybody’s bad, look at the horrible people, the slave owners, slaves were treated horribly,’ which they were, but there’s going to be nothing positive necessarily in the school history that comes out of it of what people were actually like, of what real people were actually like,” Knowles said. “I think that message is lost in school, in history, and you’ve got that message [in your film].”
To Knowles, “Union Bound” shows there are good people in the world who are less concerned with skin color than with doing the right thing. Davis believes a story such as this, about two white men and a black man helping each other get to freedom, should be more common in our world.
“That’s a story that we should be telling every day of the week, that we can come together regardless of our backgrounds, where we’re from, what our skin tone is, and work together for a common good,” Davis said. “And great things happen when you do that, and I think that’s absolutely the message that we want portrayed here.”