Truehart Productions’ documentary on slavery in NJ airs on PBS this month

On August 24 at 8pm a documentary by Truehart Productions that has been two and a half years in the making will be released in two parts on NJ PBS’s network of stations. The film, a two-part series, will begin by exploring slavery in New Jersey with moving stories from historians and descendants of slaves from across the state. Then in Part II it will reveal the lasting impact slavery has had on the African American community today.

The Executive Producer and the President of Truehart Productions, Ridgeley Hutchinson stated: “Thanks to our grass-roots fundraising efforts on social media, two grants from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and major funding from Public Media New Jersey, our mission to educate New Jerseyans with this basically untold and forgotten story will now be told across the State and in New Jersey’s schools, libraries and museums.”

Steel engraving from 1876 Original edition from Ridgeley Hutchinson’s archives

In June, NJPBS announced:

“NJ PBS, New Jersey’s public television network, announced it will air a two-part documentary entitled The Price of Silence: The Forgotten Story of New Jersey’s Enslaved People. The documentary seeks to fill a gap in Garden State history by sharing the little-known legacy of slavery across New Jersey through the testimony of experts who have devoted their careers to studying it. Watch a trailer here.

“New Jersey is known as the Garden State,” says author Beverly Mills in the film. “We’re known for our blueberries. We’re known for our corn. We’re known for our peaches. But we’re not known for the slaves that were here tilling the soil. We’re not known for the whole history of slavery connected to New Jersey and how slavery was the underpinning of much of the wealth of New Jersey.”

Danielia Cotton during filming of the documentary.

“Enslavement was prolific from the very founding of New Jersey in the 1600s as a colony and eventual manufacturing hub that supplied the Southern states with leather goods and other products. Its eye on production and profit created a demand for the cost-effective services of the enslaved, a demand that only grew as New Jersey developed into a major maritime port. What’s more, white slave owners at the time could receive the equivalent of land rebates based upon the number of enslaved working their land.

“New Jersey was the last Northern state to even attempt to abolish slavery,” says Linda Caldwell Epps, Ph.D. and CEO of 1804 Consultants, in the film. “And (it) was probably the Northern state with the strongest sympathies towards the South. Because it was the Southern-most Northern state, it had a lucrative trade policy with the Southern states.”

The film treks across New Jersey to bring stories of the enslaved to life, from the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May and the Stoutsburg Cemetery in Mercer County to the Bainbridge House at Princeton University, and to Perth Amboy where slave ships docked and to Hopewell, an area where Black families were among its founders.

“I never learned about this in school,” says Mills in the film regarding the history of slavery in New Jersey, “If anything, we were taught to feel shame. And today…I feel nothing but pride and I feel empowered.”

The Price of Silence: The Forgotten Story of New Jersey’s Enslaved People is a production of Truehart Productions and Public Media NJ, Inc. Truehart’s Executive Producers are Ridgeley Hutchinson and Andrew Schmertz; Keyon Williams is producer/editor; Antoinetta Stallings is producer. Joe Lee is Executive in Charge for NJ PBS.

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