Some 17 years after its debut on the New Jersey Network in 1998, an award-winning documentary depicting the life of African-Americans in Morris County during the 1920s is now available to a new audience at the click of a computer mouse.
“Chanceman’s Brothers and Sisters: the Origins of the 20th Century Morris County Black Community,” produced by Dr. Rita Heller, associate professor of history and political science at County College of Morris (CCM), can now be viewed at any time on the college’s YouTube channel.
Heller initiated the project with Dr. Gwen Dungy, the first black dean at the college. Heller, who served as executive producer, also worked with the late Dr. Clement Alexander Price, an African-American historian and the documentary’s script writer. Price, who was named Newark’s city historian and founded the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience at Rutgers-Newark, described the film as “the first attempt to shed light on the internal logic of a New Jersey black community," according to Heller.
“When James ‘Chanceman’ Gregory, Morristown’s first black police officer, walked out on the beat in 1934 with his proud family watching from across South Street, he walked into history,” Heller said. “His story sent the production team’s imagination into fast forward. Gregory’s nickname would inspire our title, as well as our film’s themes.”
Gregory’s cousin, the late John Shaw Pinkman, who was Morristown’s historian, and three other individuals who experienced life in Morris County during the 1920s, are featured in the film through interviews. The 30-minute documentary was pared down from 15 hours of interviews.
Since its debut, the documentary has been available through the CCM Foundation office on VHS and DVD.