The Connecticut Humanities Council has awarded a $23,000 grant to plan a documentary on the James family. Award-winning filmmakers and my dear cousins Ashley James and Kathryn Golden and I will be partnering with the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, with support from the Old Saybrook Historical Society, to plan For Dear Mother’s Sake: The James Family Letters That Shaped Ann Petry.
The letters document the lives of the best-selling author’s family:
- a grandfather, who escaped from a Virginia plantation during the Civil War and became one of the first black men to buy a house in Hartford’s North End
- her uncle, a “Buffalo Soldier” who, after his service in the Philippine-American War, begged Petry’s mother to send money so he could bribe a Georgia sheriff to escape a lynching
- an aunt who went alone to Hawaii to care for the children of lepers at the turn of the twentieth century and met the last queen
- Petry’s mother, who operated three businesses while raising a family
- an aunt who became the first African-American woman to obtain a pharmacy license from the state of Connecticut and operated a pharmacy for more than forty years.
Petry’s mother saved the four hundred letters that will frame the documentary. For more, see Can Anything Beat White? A Black Family’s Letters, which I edited and compiled.
Everyone involved in this project is ecstatic and looking forward to exploring the lives of people who had a major impact on Connecticut and around the world.
We will be holding various events as we move along, so watch this space for further announcements.