By Adanya Day
Contributors: Joley Cabe, Jacob Trump, Cora Rebert
Photo by Khalil Tompkins
Nestled in the heart of Eastern North Carolina lies a small humble town known for its resilient residents who have rebuilt the town following the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. Princeville was the first town chartered by Black Americans and is better known as Freedom Hill to its residents.
Filmmaker and North Carolina native Resita Cox visited William Peace University Feb. 2 to showcase her documentary, “Freedom Hill”, and the struggles the people that live there have gone through.
Cox, 28, grew up only an hour away from Princeville, the focal point of her documentary. Cox studied journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, and after graduating went on to a career as a reporter in TV news in both North Carolina and Chicago.
Cox felt a connection with the town of Princeville after covering the destruction following Hurricane Matthew as a news reporter, and wanted to return to tell a more complete story. The documentary showcases the environmental racism that has put the town in danger and the strong community formed by its residents.
“I felt the need to tell people the story of Princeville because it’s not by chance that it’s where Black communities live and it was the only land for them to buy,” Cox said. “I also wanted to do the film and leave it with a sense of joy and pride within the community.”
Historical racism, current effects
Environmental racism as demonstrated in the documentary is racial discrimination in environmental policy making. Princeville residents describe how lawmakers in Tarboro refuse to put proper infrastructure in place to protect the small town.
Tarboro, a nearby town with a predominantly white population, has jurisdiction over Princeville. Tarboro was founded at a higher elevation that was more favorable to white landowners, while Princeville was founded at a lower elevation by freed slaves looking for land.
Marquetta Dickens, women’s basketball coach at Peace and native of Princeville, played an integral role in the documentary, depicting how the people of Princeville are attempting to work with local officials in Tarboro to prevent further flooding in the town rather than leaving the town entirely.
“It’s easier to buy them out then put in place the infrastructure to protect these communities,” Dickens said in the film. “We are a strong and resistant people. You can see why we aren’t letting our town die.”
A central point of the film was the sense of community in Princeville. In multiple scenes, there could be seen a 106th birthday drive by celebration in the time of the COVID pandemic, community members spending time at the local barber shop, and people taking the time to clean up the grave sites of family members.
“Everybody knew everybody,” said Dickens. “ We are a community.”
Due to it being the first place freed slaves were able to go settle down and lay down roots, many community members dispute the idea of leaving the town for fear of future flooding.
“Black people were never meant to have property in the United States, we were property,” said Dickens.
Making a Documentary
Cox talked to students at 4 p.m. about the process of making a documentary, followed by a screening of Freedom Hill with a question-and-answer session to close the event.
Asked for advice for future filmmakers, Cox replied, “You just gotta start.”
“Freedom Hill is as good as it is because of the mistakes I made in learning,” she said.
Junior Jacob Roe was enlightened and inspired by the ideas Cox presented about her background and the filmmaking process.
“The presentation was very informative,” said Roe, “and helped me look forward to what I need to do if I’m going into the filmmaking process.”
The event was sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and was intended to kick off Black History Month.
“Something that stood out to me was how connected a community is especially over the course of history,” said Yamila Emanuel. “A lot of communities like to stay true to their roots and some like the one in Freedom Hill like to constantly advocate and make their neighbors aware of the history that makes their town unique.”