James Family Documentary Fund

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A Family’s Legacy Takes A New Shape

Journalist, community volunteer and former CFMC board member Elisabeth Petry received an amazing gift from her mother, acclaimed author Ann Petry —  a cookie tin containing over 400 letters and photographs handed down through five generations of family.

The James Children: (l to r front) Harry, Harriet (l to r back) Helen, Fritz, Willis, Bertha

                                      The James Children:
                               (l to r front) Harry, Harriet
                      (l to r back) Helen, Fritz, Willis, Bertha

When Liz shared what she found with her cousins Ashley James and Kathryn Golden, co-founders of Searchlight Films, a new idea started to take shape.  The trio saw more than family memorabilia in that tin; they also saw local history and legacy, and knew this story needed to be shared. They agreed on a documentary film project named The James Family Letters.

The James Family Letters is a broadcast documentary film currently in preproduction, exploring the James clan of Connecticut – an African American family that rose from slavery, triumphed over racism, and produced a number of “firsts,” including shaping the life of acclaimed author Ann Petry. The film will be designed for television with distribution through libraries, museums, community organizations, and digital Internet streams.

The core of the film is presented via letters, historical documents, and archival photographs handed down through five generations of the James family and preserved by Ann Petry in old cookie tins and boxes. Interviews with prominent historians and scholars will provide context and evaluation of the themes presented. And while the film profiles one family, it is a prism through which we can view Connecticut life, community, and race relations from the post-Civil War era through the early 20th century.

For more information about how this project began or to follow the documentary as it takes shape see the list of related links below.

You can become a part of this exciting project by donating to this important piece of history.