WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - More than a century and a half ago, thousands of enslaved African Americans journeyed through the secret trails of the Underground Railroad, many passing through Eastern Carolina in their pursuit of freedom.
One of the most prominent roadways in North Carolina ran through the coastal area of Washington, as the Tar-Pamlico River was a heavily trafficked mode of transportation to northern areas.
James Jones was inspired by the stories of the brave men, women, and children that sought their freedom in the 1800s.
Jones directed the film Freedom of NC, which tells those stories in the historic spaces they would have occurred in throughout the East.
“It’s all about creativity,” Jones said.
The process of creating the film was no easy feat for Jones, especially as the COVID pandemic restricted all filming schedules.
“As the whole world was shut down, it just gave me a chance to be able to review what I had and go over my script and make changes... leading on to the new plantation that we were going to be able to shoot on,”
said James Jones, Freedom of NC director.
The “new plantation” he refers to is the Historic Hope Plantation, located less than five miles west of Windsor.
“We wanted to do something to give back to the people that are here as well,” Jones said in reference to locals of Washington.
This caused him to scout the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum as his opening scene location.
To fill in the gaps of his plotline, Jones needed an expert in Beaufort County history.
“The history we document here is how freedom seekers got from those plantations with the help of abolitionists who were white, Black, Native American, people from all walks of life,” Leesa Jones, Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum executive director and historian said.
Motifs of history were interwoven with the plotline. Leesa Jones’s favorite is inspired by flowers with a secret meaning.
“I could have just a handful of sunflowers and that big brown spot was called an eye,” Leesa Jones said. "That could simply indicate that there were too many eyes watching and so the movie accurately portrays that.”
In Washington, people will see the showing of Freedom of NC at the Historic Turnage Theatre on Feb. 26th, as part of their Black History Month celebrations.
“I’m very proud of doing it and bringing it back here because this is where it started and you can really see what was transpiring during that time,” James Jones said.
This month, in his celebration of Black history, James Jones wants to focus on more than just the adversities of his ancestors.
He honors the stories of Washington-based ancestors, and he hopes his work inspires other young Black creators to achieve what he calls “Black excellence.”
That starts, James Jones says, by putting himself out there, efforting to reach his dreams.
When the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum is not the backdrop of Jones’s filmmaking, it serves as an educational tool for area students and visitors.
There, they have the opportunity to see primary documents from Beaufort County in the 1800s, when thousands of enslaved people sought their freedom.
Due to a volunteer shortage from the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum is working on an abbreviated schedule.
The museum is open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for tours of its collection.