Chanceman's Brothers & Sisters: The Origins of the 20th Century Morris County

Chanceman’s Brothers & Sisters: The Origins of the 20th Century Morris County Black Community(1998) County College of Morris (CCM) professor Rita Heller has produced and directed the important story of how a small black community evolved in bucolic Morris County during much of the twentieth century. Confronted with deep-rooted racism, which also affected Catholics, Jews, and some ethnic groups, black families demonstrated cohesive pride and dignity. This resulted in self-contained communities in which religion and education were hallmarks. There were often stylish tea and dinner parties.

The recollections of early members of this black community do not gloss over the massive discrimination. What one senses is how well they flourished, despite being marginalized by the white majority. Gwen Boyce Squier recounts how her father, a chauffeur, quit, when his employer was incensed that Mr. Boyce had once driven his daughter to school. Robert Banks, the first black policeman in Boonton, discusses the local reaction, prior to his being named Boonton’s first black police chief.

This documentary was cast within both a broader as well as a more detailed context at a videoed 1999 conference held at CCM. Professor Clement Price provided a vivid historical framework relating the black Morris County story to the Great Migration that brought a small number of blacks to various New Jersey communities. He stressed the importance of documentaries and oral history to recall these early years in which great dignity and courage confronted discrimination. Professor Price lauded this documentary as complementing written history and providing oral history where there is no written documentation.

Extensive interviews with John Pinkman and Robert Banks provided poignant stories of how black families and communities created their own social life and safety net. They also underscored the importance of education, and particularly of the Boydton Institute, established after the Civil War in Virginia for blacks by northern Presbyterians.

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